Forging bonds through block clubs
Publication Date: Wednesday Sep 20, 1995

Forging bonds through block clubs

Local block club founder goes to the air with his program

Ola Wallacee has grand plans for East Palo Alto's block clubs.

"We're trying to build pride back into the community," said Wallacee, founder of the Block Clubs Network Association in East Palo Alto and a member of the East Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce. "We need to get people to take charge of their lives."

More than just a neighborhood watch, block clubs in East Palo Alto have sought to help children avoid trouble by promoting recreational activities that will keep them off the streets and out of harm's way.

"We've got great big plans for this organization, but it takes time," Wallacee said. "We want to be as big as Earth Day. We're going into a time in the future where people need to network more."

To that end, Wallacee has resorted to a different kind of network--cable television.

One of Wallacee's most recent projects is a half-hour cable-access television show that he hosts every other Wednesday on Midpeninsula Access Corp. Channel 6.

About seven of his shows, covering a range of subjects, have aired so far. An Aug. 23 show featured crack-cocaine addict Rayshell Woodard talking about some of her experiences as a user.

Woodard said Wallacee, who views the war on drugs as a spiritual fight, literally pulled her off the street and got her into recovery.

"He saw me on Weeks Street and asked me to go to prayer with him," Woodard said.

A Sept. 6 program included performances of the African dance troupe African Explosion. Future shows will include the history of Halloween and an African fashion show focusing on traditional garb of West and South Africa.

But Wallacee's main emphasis is the block clubs. East Palo Alto has roughly 1,500 people organized under 60 block captains he said.

"They (block captains) are responsible for organizing the blocks," Wallacee said. "They set up clubs on each street to make the streets safe and be aware of the problems."

In addition to a block captain, each block club has a monitor and a coordinator. Monitors are responsible for watch activities which can include patrols. In some of the more troubled areas, such as Clark Avenue, Wallacee said patrols operate around the clock. Coordinators are responsible for organizing such block club activities as block parties and blockwide yard sales.

The East Palo Alto Block Club Network Association is involved in a number of projects aimed at improving the lives of people in the community. Wallacee said the network has joined with McDonald's in the adopt-a-highway program to clean up the stretch of Highway 84 between Willow Road and the Dumbarton Bridge.

The network is also involved in cleaning up the abandoned railroad tracks behind Illinois Street to help reduce the rat population. Wallacee would like to use the railroad right-of-way to provide a bicycle trail into Baylands Nature Preserve. The Illinois Street block club is also involved in a beautification program with tree plantings and garden support.

"We saw drugs, sellin' drugs, disappear," said Luther Jackson, block captain of Laurel Avenue since 1992. "We were able to organize the block into a watch unit.

"It gives us a chance to learn about each other and look out for one another. If people will just take a little time out to meet the neighbors, to organize . . . it creates a sort of a net for each one."

Illinois Street Block Captain George Jefferson said he's very proud of the response he's seen from his neighbors in helping to keep the neighborhood clean and free of overgrowth. His block club cooperates with the public works department and local merchants to help beautify the neighborhood.

"Vigilance is the thing," Jefferson said. "To be aware of the surrounding area. It's for the kids' sakes and we encourage the children to read good books, that this is their city, and to believe in themselves. People care.

"We've come this far by faith, we're not out of the woods yet. They can put drugs on our street, but they can't put them in our hearts and souls."

--Kevin Moore
@jumphead:Block clubs



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