In an effort to curb crime in one of the capital city’s most troubled neighborhoods, Madison police reached out to residents on the city's east side at this year's Darbo-Worthington neighborhood picnic on Saturday.
Neighborhood officer Susie Gonzalez said she is hoping that the weekend picnic will create a dialogue between residents and law enforcement officers and prove that they are all on the same team when it comes to keeping the neighborhood safe.
And, like most picnics, Gonzalez hoped the event would be fun and positive for all sides.
Gonzalez said police, neighborhood groups, and residents need to work together to create a zero tolerance community when it comes to gangs and violence.
"Darbo-Worthington is known to be a high crime, at risk, challenge neighborhood," said Gonzalez. "But we're trying to change that. I've been the neighborhood officer for two years. We're trying to change the quality of living here. The police and the stakeholders are not going to stand for crime here in this neighborhood."
Some residents say they are already witnessing a transition in the neighborhood.
"You have your bad in every neighborhood," said resident Natasha Weaver. "But I think it's getting better though."
This year’s event featured information booths, games, free food, and a basketball game featuring neighborhood group Mentoring Positives.
The program uses basketball and other programs to help area teens stay on the right path.
"It's just a positive outreach in the Darbo community," said Kelly West of Mentoring Positives. "It’s to reinforce positive attitudes to mainly African-American males."
And for families like Illisha Grant's, the day also included some much needed back-to-school help as The Salvation Army was there giving away free backpacks filled with school supplies.
"Us as parents don't have the money to get these things ourselves, so we would usually get things as we need it down the line," said Grant. "But this is a start for us and I appreciate it."
Officer Gonzalez said they only had about 50 residents attend last year's picnic but they are hoping to have tripled that this year.