North Toledo Coalition fighting crime by cleaning grimeWritten by Tom Konecny | | email@example.com
Alfonso Narvaez is part of a block watch program in the North End, but contrary to what some might think, he believes the tools of crime fighting can be purchased at the Home Depot where he’s employed.
“When you clean up the neighborhood, it controls the crime,” said Narvaez, whose North Toledo Coalition uses plenty of rakes, shovels, chainsaws and mowers to tackle blighted alleys and lots throughout his lifelong neighborhood.
Narvaez, 23, is spearheading a new wave of cleanup in his neighborhood, an area sandwiched between the Greenbelt Parkway and Summit Street, just immediately north of Downtown Toledo.
In 2010, while still a teenager, Narvaez had had enough of seeing neighborhoods shaped by lack of attention and ran for City Council. His political dream was put on hold, although he’s running for Council again in the May 5 special election, but his door-to-door visits started bearing fruit.
While canvassing, Narvaez ran into Larry Warnimont, a Perrysburg transplant who’s called the North End home since 1972. Before retiring, Warnimont worked as a facilities manager for the Toledo Trust Company.
Narvaez spoke of his desire to clean up the streets, but Warnimont was skeptical. Warnimont had heard plenty of talk before with no follow-through.
Narvaez wouldn’t give up.
“I stood there for a few minutes and I said, ‘You’re going to take me serious,’ and one thing led to another,” Narvaez said. “It’s a great relationship, and [Warnimont’s] the one who started the photo album.”
That photo album is a simple black binder, chock full of before-and-after photos that have caught plenty of attention. Narvaez and Warnimont have attended various city meetings to show off the album and demonstrate what they’ve accomplished over the past five years. The coalition is also working hand-in-hand with various community groups.
“Once we learned to communicate with the different groups in the city, we started taking off,” Warnimont said.
“The city themselves are amazed at what we’ve done,” Narvaez said. “I got a note from [the late] Mayor Collins in December who thanked us then, and we’re still working with the city today.”
Some alleys were so congested with trash and overgrown bushes they couldn’t be used by cars. Now, after a cleanup, a few homeowners have added garage doors.
In the past year alone, the coalition has cleaned up 40 properties and picked up 97 abandoned tires in alleys and streets. On April 18, the group plans to meet at the corner of Ash and Summit streets to conduct a massive I-280 bike path cleanup project, collecting bags of trash and debris.
Narvaez believes that what sets them apart from other block watches is that they give positions and titles to residents, offering responsibility and accountability. For example, Narvaez serves as a block watch captain, his uncle Adam Narvaez is the volunteer coordinator and Warnimont is a project manager.
Warnimont was involved in a related effort during the late ’70s and ’80s, when citizens cruised the neighborhood and contacted police via citizens band radio. But that effort began to slowly fade away, and so did the garbage trucks that once used local alleys.
“What we’ve done in the past five to six years has never been done in this neighborhood,” Narvaez said. “They’re seeing the neighborhood cleaned up for the first time. We get people that stop us all the time and ask what we’re doing, and they say, ‘Wow, it’s never been done.’ We’re not just a block watch, we’re more than that.”
Narvaez said many of his neighbors believe they live in a forgotten area, but should Narvaez earn the voters’ support May 5, he’ll be proud to represent the expansive District 4 on City Council, which includes his North End friends.
“As much as I like politics, to me it doesn’t matter; Republican or Democrat, it’s about putting our neighborhoods first,” said Narvaez, a Republican.
As for Narvaez’s age, he doesn’t believe that’s an issue, because he’s committed to Toledo for good.
“I’m proud to be 23 years old,” Narvaez said. “When I tell people my age, they say ‘He’s a one-hit wonder,’ but by the time the Jamie Farr Park dredging project is done, I’ll be 30 years old. I’m here for the long term. I was born and raised here.”
Warnimont has witnessed Narvaez’s resolve firsthand over the past five years.
“Alfonso, just because he’s 23, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what’s going on,” he said. “I’ve learned some things from him. We’re just doing what we’re doing and trying to do the best we can.”