Watch captain says Unity Garden helps prevent crime

People who work to keep their neighborhoods safe often wear more than one hat, so to speak. One woman in a Michiana neighborhood certainly fits that description.

She is involved in many organizations, not the least of which is being president of her neighborhood association. It is a double duty because she also coordinates the neighborhood watch efforts there.

And she's not afraid to get her hands dirty, figuratively and literally. On any given day, you can find Barbara Sutton working in the North Shore Triangle's unity garden. She founded the garden three years ago.

“I sent out an email,” she said. “I said does anybody have any land or know of a spot in the neighborhood where we could start a community garden. Then we had John and Nancy Wilford who said ‘we have the side yard we hate to mow. It'd be fine to start a unity garden there."

Sutton is accustomed to getting things to grow in the North Shore Triangle. She's been the neighborhood watch coordinator there for the past five years, after spending many years as a block captain.

She started a neighborhood list serve to help notify residents of crime in the triangle.

“I developed the list from a neighborhood meeting, where people started to put down their email,” she said. “Then every time I send out an email, I got a half a dozen more people who say ‘can you add me,’ or ‘my neighbor wants to be on it, can you add them?’ And it just keeps growing.”

Her list serve now covers more than a third of the triangle's 600 homes. For those neighbors without a computer, she and her captains make sure they know what's going on.

“Many of our neighbors know their neighbors who don't have access to their computers and so they'll print out the email I send and walk it over to the neighbor to let them know about the issues that arise.”

You could say it's a real grass roots effort. Speaking of roots, Sutton says this unity garden has been a big plus for the Triangle's neighborhood watch efforts.

“The unity garden has been a unifying force and conversation piece among the neighborhood. There are 12 families who are involved in the unity garden. We didn't know each other before we started the garden. So there 12 families met each other and started working with each other. Plus we have a lot of foot traffic around the garden. People come by and see how the progress is. We talk to them, find out where they live, who their kids are, who their dogs are,” said Sutton.

Those growing bonds, said Sutton, have made this area even safer for the families who live there.

“That all plays into being good neighbors,” she said. “And having a safe neighborhood. Knowing who your neighbor is, being able to communicate with them, being able to call them saying "I don't like the looks of this person driving down the alley. It's really a benefit."

Sutton also created a teen work list, where young people in the neighborhood can get jobs mowing grass, baby sitting, dog walking and other odd jobs.

It keeps the kids busy, helps them earn money and hopefully out of trouble while often helping some of the elderly in the neighborhood keep their homes up.

It is a win-win because it also builds some trust between the generations.

Sutton is also a CPA and works full time as the Vice President of Finance for Child and Parent Services (CAPS) in Elkhart.

CAPS goal is to strengthen families and prevent child abuse in Elkhart County.

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