Safe Harbors

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Some 60 percent of the residents of Newport Harbour Apartments, a 200 unit, HUD assisted complex for families in Newport News, are kids. Given all the influences and temptations of modern life, so many kids might seem a recipe for disaster. For loud parties. For property damage. For vandalism.

But not at Newport Harbour. Maybe, just maybe, that's because giving kids a chance to do what they want to do steers them away from doing things grown-ups don't want them to do.

Nowadays, for example, the children of most middle class families are just steps away from a home computer and the wide world to which it provides access. That was not the case for the kids of Newport Harbor. Not, that is, until October 2004 when, with help from HUD and the Newport News Police Department and using proceeds from IRP decoupling transaction, the complex opened a Neighborhood Networks Center.

With 10 workstations donated by the NNPD and seating for more than 100, the Center's been bustling ever since, with the kids - and, yes, the parents of Newport Harbor - now cyber-connected to all the opportunities the Internet has to offer.

[Photo: Left to right - Charlie Famuliner & Gloria Smith]
MF Richmond's Charlie Famuliner honoring Newport Harbour's Gloria Smith for her "her outstanding dedication, inspiration and support for its Neighborhood Networks Center."

The Center started small. But property manager Gloria Smith has made it the exact center of Newport Harbour's community life, adding partners like the Hampton Roads Boys & Girls Club, the Sheriffs Department, the neighborhood school, the Carver Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Kiwanis and the local Masonic Lodge. Obviously, it's a place where kids can do homework or "surf" the Net, but it's also become a place where they can get a haircut, learn how to swim or enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.

No wonder, then, that one of the Center's biggest boosters is the Newport News Police Department. So much so, in fact, that, in January, both Police Chief James D. Fox and HUD Richmond's Charlie Famuliner held a special ceremony to honor Gloria Smith and the Center for their work they've done.

"Neighborhood Network Centers are not the be-all and end-all solution to public safety issues," says Famuliner. "But they do serve as a model of how resources can be harnessed and partnerships formed to keep kids out of trouble by getting them connected to the world outside their door. And when you have someone like Gloria Smith taking charge, it's almost a sure-fire guarantee the model will succeed."

Newport Harbour's Center has been so successful, in fact, that a nearby HUD-assisted complex for the elderly and disabled families - the COGIC Highrise in Norfolk - opened its own Neighborhood Networks Center in January. Its residents, reports property manager Helen Woodley, are "thoroughly excited"

"No wonder," notes Famuliner, "nothing succeeds like success and, if a Neighborhood Networks opens a door to anything, it's the door to success."


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