Front Porch Swing

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By Garry Garretson – My new job as a Regional Manager of contract management services included direct responsibility at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx section of New York City. I would be making monthly trips from our home in Albany, to assess customer satisfaction with our custodial services, financial success and developing our managers and college staff for their future mobility. It was a new role for me and a good promotion, including a good salary increase, a company car and an expense account.

I felt well prepared, due my five years experience as a general services manager in a small hospital followed by a large intercity medical center.

However, this first trip was especially tense as I did not know my way around and the city, which was going through some racial turmoil. All of the abandoned cars on front lawns on several streets along the way was a real eye opener, and got my heart pumping.

I stopped for gasoline before getting to the college, realizing it would probably be dark when I left and others warned me that the hospital was not in the safest neighborhood. The area by the gas station seemed really calm and quiet. I got out to talk with the attendant, back when they still pumped your gas, washed your windshield and checked under the hood. I had learned from my previous boss that a great source for local information was the gas station attendant, so I started a conversation with the tall young man with the very dark skin. He was friendly, confident, and had a great smile, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with him.

After some small talk about the weather, sports and family, I asked him about the race issues in the city and what the community should do. He immediately pointed to the street we were on and asked “What do you see in front of the houses?” I said “streets”, which was not what he was looking for. Next I guessed sidewalks. Not on point again. I thought the only answer was a front yard. No was his answer.

Finally I guessed front porches

. His reply was partially right, front porches are better than the back patios of the suburbs, but you must include the swing. Put people in front of people in a casual environment and they can work out any problem. You see, Miss Daniels lives on the corner. She is watching over the neighborhood today. Tomorrow it may be Mr. Davis, then Mr. Lin, then Mrs. Lopez and then others down the street. Each evening it may be someone else. There is no schedule, it just happens. If any of them see the boys misbehaving, it will be hell to pay. All of the teenagers know to listen or face the wrath of their parents later. It is a community with one goal, ‘live in peace together, now and the future’.

As the parents come home, they will walk by Miss Daniels house and greet her. Many days they will walk up to her front steps and simply say, moment to talk, and a conversation, or sometimes a disagreement would develop, but never carrying over to the next visit. They make their point and move on to the next topic. Sometimes it lasts hours. The kids stop by as it gets dark and just sit and listen, learning about politics, school requirements, discipline, policing, lawn care, the latest sale at Sears or the last sermon at church. At Mr. Lin’s porch, they would probably hear about the school system, as he was a retired teacher. At Mrs. Lopez’s porch they would focus on the shipping industry, public transportation or the local police, as her grown children were involved in each. Other neighbors love to talk politics or sports on their front porch. The kids have many mentors.

Josh was the man servicing my car; the son of the service station owner and a student at New York University, studying political science. I was very impressed and took mental notes as he spoke, eager to get his perspective.

Thereafter, every visit to NYC, I always stopped by to see Josh, fill up with gasoline and talk about the events of the day.

He was a Senior and writing a final paper titled “The Front Porch Solution”, as I recall. We stayed in contact and he considered working for the company I worked for, but decided to pursue a Masters Degree from Temple University after graduating from NYU. We continued to talk regularly for many years, but his dad passed away and he sold the service station and took a great job in Detroit. We lost contact over the next few years but his lessons are still as meaningful as they were over 50 years ago. It was my great lesson in ‘The Front Porch Solution’.
Get people in front of each other, on the front porch swinging, and they will work it out.

A great lesson for today with the disruptions around police actions and community reactions. We could all take a lesson from Josh and get face-to-face and work toward solutions. There are three kinds of protesters: those that make the right things happen for good, those that wait for someone else to come up with solutions, and those who just sit and complain. Oh yes, there are also the disruptors, who never look for solutions. We need a community of ‘make the right thing happen’ people and get them on the front porch in the swing, with the intent on community unity.

I lived in Boone County, West Virginia until I was 14, next door to my paternal grandparents, Granny and Poppy. If ever there were saints on this earth, they were the ones. They started the local church and were major influencers in teaching the word. He was a former Deputy Sheriff and had become very influential in the political arena after retirement.

They had a big front porch all along the front of their house, facing the one road though the rural area of the county.

Consequently, people would drive by and see Poppy swinging on the chain swing, stop and talk politics, Bible, coal mining, family or any other topic. We had relatives all around the area and the kids would hang out together, many times on Granny’s porch, just listening and learning. Poppy would teach us rhymes, which I can quote sixty years later. They were sometimes funny, sometimes life lessons and sometimes just fun to recite. When work was done, my uncles would stop over to talk and have a cup of coffee. We kids listened, learned, and grew as people. Every discussion was centered around Biblical teachings of equality, fairness, and living right.

The color of another’s skin was never mentioned, it was about people, motives, and their actions. Even though the area was predominantly white, local minorities routinely stopped by and we learned equally from them. That was my first lesson about ‘The Front Porch Solution’.

The ‘Hug a Deputy’ in Vista was a great show of support, but who attended? Who attended the show of support for law enforcement in San Diego? Not Gang members. Not teens on the cusp of crime. Not the law breakers. The attendees seem to have been other law enforcement officers and people holding political office; those who want to be elected and those who already support law enforcement. I praise all of the attendees but challenge them to define the process going forward to ensure excellent protective service and unwavering community support. When will the community unity kick in and what will it look like? The City of Oceanside has coffee’s with the police force. The city I grew up in, Milford, Connecticut had a PAL (Police Athletic League), the City of Vista has ?????????? to build relationships. How is social media being utilized? Is there a place where a young person can go to get advice, directly or online? Can we have videos posted that explain how to handle domestic violence, drug issues, gang pressures, etc.? Can we get inexpensive ‘challenge coins’ for deputies that have their contact information, a slogan of encouragement or a ‘well done’?

How many of the officers serving in Vista live in the community? How often does the staff turn over? How often does the Captain position turn over? What community activities do the deputies attend, support or lead? I see the website list of crime prevention activities by the senior volunteer program, the community oriented policing and problem solving, but ask how many Vista residents are impacted by each activity? The list of youth and school activities by deputies is impressive, but how many students are being impacted? How do we measure success?

What is being done to gain community support for the Sheriffs?

I have lived in Vista for 25 years and I know one deputy. I only see them driving around in their cars, at City Council meetings and occasionally on foot patrol by the theatre. I was a Parks and Recreation Commissioner for 13 years, have been a Vista Planning Commissioner the last four, a Chamber of Commerce member, a past Vice President of the Vista Education Foundation, regular attendee at North Coast Church for 20 years, etc. and I know one deputy.

What am I doing wrong? What should I be doing differently to be more connected to our vital law enforcement heroes? What should they be doing? What should we be doing together? How do we achieve community unity? We all need to be social entrepreneurs. There are only three choices, 1- hope everything will be OK in our city, and do nothing and just leave it to the Sheriff and the politicians, 2- anticipate that something could go wrong and adjust now or 3- get the whole community involved to assess how we are doing and make the necessary adjustments to prevent future issues. Is there a slow boil happening here? We are either moving forward or falling back, in terms of relationships and confidence. We are a very diverse community. Each of the past Vista shooting incidents have eroded confidence. We either rebuild it or see it further erode. Is it beneath the surface?

Is it time for a community written and dated action plan, starting with an in depth assessment of how things are (definition is a prerequisite to resolution) with input from each segment (physical, financial, community, crime, confidence, neighborhood) of Vista. Are you with me? Do we act now or react when things happen? When all is said and done, will more be said than done? Community unity now! How do we get the front porch activities going?

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