Big turnout for launch of South DeKalb Improvement Association
11/1/2013, 6:05 a.m.
The South DeKalb Improvement Association took flight on Oct. 26 with more than 90 enthusiastic supporters showing up for its kickoff meeting.
The newly formed group, which is seeking to improve the area’s quality of life and economic development, hopes to help reverse the decline brought on by the recent foreclosure crisis, the economic recession and neglect.
Board Chairman David George said they hope to mobilize dissatisfied residents to achieve real and permanent improvement.
“The whole thing is to get the message out to concerned people that care about the community and have them join a strong team,” he told the crowd at Berean Christian Church in Stone Mountain. “That’s our aim. That’s what we want to accomplish.”
Dr. Kathryn Rice, the group’s founder and past president of the Hidden Hills Civic Association, said they are “very determined” to make a change in the community.
“It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” she said. “We’re not going to do the same thing that’s been tried before.”
Attendees had plenty of questions about how the SDIA plans to improve South DeKalb’s quality of life.
Rice said its methods will differ from previous efforts in three ways with ZIP code and topic captains and by being involved for the long haul.
She said it will divide South DeKalb into ZIP codes and each one will have a captain.
“We call them ‘ZIP captains,’” she said. “They’ll be the liaison between the SDIA and the people who live there and they’ll be responsible for reporting on the problems and needs of their areas.”
The SDIA will appoint “topic captains” who will attend government meetings and monitor government activities so that information about impending decisions by the Board of Commissioners and other agencies can be shared with residents before they have been approved.
Rice said community groups often fall by the wayside because there’s usually one or two people who are doing everything and they get burned out.
“The way that we’ve decided to fix that is by paying money, a stipend, to our ZIP captains and our topic captains,” Rice said. “They’re the ones that we need to have, so they’re our priority.”
A premium $5 annual membership is available to individuals and $50 to $250 memberships for community and civic groups. The SDIA also will seek corporate donations and foundation grants.
The SDIA’s target list will focus on abandoned and foreclosed properties; improving educational standards; public safety; code enforcement and compliance; and economic development in an area extending from Clarkston to Moreland Avenue to Lithonia.
George said the SDIA will work with county government to turn things around.
“We want to collaborate with them by mobilizing the community,” he said.
P.J. Lemuel, who lives in the Snapfinger Lake subdivision in Decatur, signed up for the premium membership at the meeting.
She said she knows firsthand what persistent activism can accomplish.
In 2011, Lemuel and her neighbors blocked the Georgia Department of Transportation from building a road through their subdivision to carry truck traffic to a neighboring business.
“With coverage from CrossRoadsNews we were able to get DOT to reverse the decision that they made to do an illegal road into our subdivision that would have allowed 18-wheelers to drive through our community, and now we have a beautiful neighborhood,” Lemuel said.
Others who’ve seen South DeKalb improvement efforts come and go said the new group will need broad-based support.
Nicole Madhere, a retired registered nurse who lives in the Stratton Hills subdivision in Decatur, said she was planning to sell her house and move when the housing market rebounded. Now she is encouraged.
“I’ve been here for 26 years and have seen the decline,” she said. “I think the [SDIA] is a very dynamic group of people. I think they can get it done, but they can’t do it alone. We have to be involved. It’s gonna take all of us.”