TEAM APPROACH Mayor, others will visit neighborhoods, seek to open communications

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth will be joining police officers, firefighters, street department employees, inspection and zoning specialists, other officials and local ministers in reviving a defunct outreach program aimed at opening communications with citizens while strengthening neighborhoods.

The new program — presently without a name — will officially debut Tuesday morning when Hollingsworth and her crew will be knocking on doors in an area bordered by Olive and Cherry streets and West 23rd and 28th avenues. The group had a “trial run” Friday morning along several blocks of West 26th, and Hollingworth said “things couldn’t have gone better.”

The mayor said Friday’s experience was “fun” in large part because “people were very receptive.”

“None of them were expecting us to be walking up the street, greeting them as they were in their yards, or knocking on their doors so we could say hello and hear what they had to say,” Hollingsworth said. “People came outside and spoke with us. and after we told them what we we wanted to do in the neighborhood starting Tuesday, a number of them were extremely pleased and promised they would be helping us in meeting others there. It was absolutely wonderful.”

The old effort functioned under the name of “The Safe Team.” The new campaign is similar but has some added features.

“We could tell that residents were happy to talk with our public safety representatives about neighborhood concerns and how by working together we can make things better,” said the mayor, who utilized the strategy of walking through neighborhoods and knocking on doors during her mayoral campaign. “I saw some properties up close Friday that have been unoccupied for a long time and create a bad element in the area, and I promised nearby residents that we would do everything we could to remedy such situations as quickly as we can. We’ve been patient far too long with some of those structures.

“It was an eye-opening experience for all of us.”

Hollingsworth said she’s “thrilled” that a growing number of ministers are participating. She said she was especially moved by one pastor who told her that churches here “have been absent from working the community far too long,” but “are now partnering with city government in revitalizing” the city.

“A committee of pastors are all on board for this,” Hollingsworth said. “They’re seeing our neighborhoods as mission fields. It’s exciting to me to see so many Pine Bluff people coming together and reaching out to one another. I’m seeing that old Pine Bluff pride burning brighter again.

“I don’t care what anybody anywhere else might say,” she continued. “I’ve said all along that no other city can beat the spirit of Pine Bluff’s people. Our history shows that. Nothing or no one can stop us if we’re pulling together.”

Several council members are planning on joining Tuesday morning’s effort.

“Since it will be spring break, we’re looking forward to talking with students who may be at their homes,” the mayor said. “We hope they’ll share their ideas and opinions with us. One of the best ways to solve some old problems is with fresh thoughts and approaches, so we’ll be eager to hear their views just as much as we’ll enjoy having adults of all ages sharing their wisdom by giving us the benefit of their life experiences.”