On the second floor of the Tamaqua Community Arts Center, students from the Tamaqua Middle School have designed and painted two murals. The murals are on poster paper and are models of a project the students will paint in the community, under the guidance of their art teacher, Kim Woodward, in spring 2013.
The murals depict architectural and historical images of Tamaqua, and show it to be a tidy, industrious, thriving town. And that's just what Tamaqua can be, so say the organizers of the Tamaqua Safety Initiative.
In September, a group of about 40 residents from the town held a round table discussion. Around the table were representatives the borough's council, police department, fire department, code enforcement, businesses, neighbors and others. They identified an area of town that has a higher-than-average occurrence of crime, which is along Route 309, north and south of the center of town.
Within that area are 39 businesses, but also, 18 blighted or vacant properties. In that area, during the past three years, police have responded to 59 thefts, made 26 arrests for drug use and 47 arrests related to alcohol, three reported rapes and one assault with a knife.
One thing became clear to those seated around the table. No one organization could tackle the issues alone.
"The key is that we need neighborhood groups to take a lead and active role in the formulation of projects and development of action plans which address the safety concerns of our borough," said Leona Rega, Tamaqua Safety Initiative coordinator. Rega also coordinates events of the Tamaqua Community Art Center, which is within the identified area. "This must be done together in a partnership with our Police Department, Code Enforcement and local businesses in order to be truly successful; not only now, but for years to come."
One key goal identified during that meeting was to enhance the safety of the areas directly around local businesses, at all times of the day. A related goal is to reduce crime and disorder within the target area.
Meeting those goals requires business owners' and residents' involvement.
"When you're looking for ways to improve safety and living conditions in a town, you need the involvement of the people in the town," Rega said. "We need their input and participation."
Also, people who live and work in the town need to know how to access the resources which are available to them. For example, Rega said, many people who would like to improve their properties may not be aware that the Tamaqua Borough offers low interest home loan programs. Also, Schuylkill Community Action can assist with winterization of properties and other programs.
The Tamaqua Safety Initiative compiled an information packet describing those programs. The packet also includes information such as how to report a crime, safety tips from the fire department, and tips on property maintenance.
Representatives of the Tamaqua Safety Initiative will meet again Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Community Art Center. Although anyone is welcome, for now the focus of the group will remain on the Route 309 corridor in town.
"The key players are involved," Rega said. "Our next steps are to form neighborhood committees and begin to take action."