‘Nightwalk’ aims to reduce gun violence in west Modesto

07/21/2014 6:15 PM

07/21/2014 10:29 PM

On a recent summer afternoon, Teresa Ramirez had just arrived home when she heard gunshots outside her living-room window. The shots were fired from a car driving past her home, and she didn’t see where the gun was aimed.

Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence for west Modesto residents like Ramirez.

“You see a lot of violence,” Ramirez said in Spanish while sitting in her living room Monday. “You hear a lot of gunshots ... in the middle of the afternoon.”

A diverse group of faith leaders and community members will engage west Modesto residents Friday evening as part of an effort to reduce gun violence and restore hope in a neighborhood impacted by crime.

This does not mean west Modesto has experienced a recent surge in crime. Organizers from Congregations Building Community say this is just a good time to launch a series of “nightwalks” in the Modesto area.

“There’s a desire from the community to do something,” said Adriana Hernandez-Garcia, one of the organizers.

About 50 to 100 people, like Ramirez, will wear “Lifelines to Healing” T-shirts and walk through west Modesto. Their walk starts at 5 p.m. Friday at Central Grace Community Church, 918 Sierra Drive. They’ll carry signs and approach residents who are outside.

“We don’t knock on anyone’s door or approach anyone in their cars,” Hernandez-Garcia said.

Congregations Building Community is made up of members of a variety of faith-based groups throughout Stanislaus County, as well as other community organizations. Organizers on Monday were still in the process of finalizing a route for the west Modesto event.

The nightwalks to reduce crime also have taken place in Stockton and Fresno as part of a national anti-crime campaign. Those participating in the walk will ask residents what they like about their neighborhood and what changes they would like to see.

Hernandez-Garcia said organizers will collect responses from residents to try to develop anti-crime projects or youth outreach programs tailored for west Modesto. The walk participants also will offer a prayer after their discussion Friday.

But the effort is not limited to members of the faith-based community. Organizers are looking for input from all residents in the neighborhood.

“It’s about possibly saving a life. It’s about possibly changing someone’s life,” Hernandez-Garcia said. “We welcome everyone.”

She said west Modesto residents have expressed that they would like to see more positive activities for youths in the neighborhood in the form of after-school programs or youth centers. “Anything to keep them out of trouble and off the streets,” Hernandez-Garcia said.

The nightwalk organizers hope to show residents how to work with their neighbors and coordinate their own walks. The goal is to support them in their own efforts to improve the quality of life in their neighborhood.

They want to encourage residents like Ramirez, who meets weekly with a small church group to discuss the problems that plague neighborhoods. She says some in the group have restored their faith and improved their lives.

“It’s about our faith and taking action,” Ramirez said.

The nightwalks will make their way to other troubled neighborhoods, such as Modesto’s airport neighborhood and south Modesto. Organizers hope the walks become regular events, engaging and empowering more residents each time.

“It’s not going to be a one-time thing,” Hernandez-Garcia said.

For more information or to participate in the nightwalks, call Hernandez-Garcia at (209) 589-4329.

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