Dozens of Carbondale residents braved frigid temperatures and icy conditions Saturday morning to attend the annual Neighborhood Alliance meeting at First United Methodist Church.
These meetings have been going on for a decade and have traditionally been a place where residents can network, hear what neighborhood and community groups are doing, and participate in a panel discussion with city officials.
Kareem Sherati served as the emcee, welcoming all to the meeting and introducing each speaker.
"I'm excited about what's happening in Carbondale," he said. "When we all come together, we can do wonderful things."
Daniel Presley represented the Neighborhood Action Group, Stephanie Reece spoke about the aquatics programs available through the Carbondale Park District, and Linda Flowers told participants what the Carbondale chapter of the NAACP is planning, including a coat drive, a can drive and a voter registration drive.
Jane Adams, representing a group working to build a dog park in Carbondale, said the group has started a fundraising campaign for three dog parks in the city, starting with one at Parrish Park.
Scott Martin spoke about the Race Unity Group.
"If we can listen to each other's stories, we can become friends," he said.
Ella Lacey spoke for the Racial Justice Coalition, Jessica Alley for the Bucky Dome, and Ginger Rye and Deborah Woods for the newly founded Women for Change.
"If you want anything done, ask a woman," Rye said.
Nathan Colombo represented the Center for Empowerment and Change, Dorsey Prosser spoke for Green Earth, Sarah Heyer represented the League of Women Voters, and Margaret Nesbitt, director of the I Can Read program, spoke of the children and how they must be able to read to succeed.
"If we can start at a young age to teach a child to read, we can change that child's life," she said. "And we still need volunteers, especially on Friday afternoons."
Karen Stallman, director of community relations at SIUC, and Todd Bryson, interim associate chancellor of diversity, talked about the college's efforts to develop and enhance community partnerships and "The Big Event" in April, when hundreds of students volunteer for community organizations.
The last portion of the meeting, and the only thing standing between a hungry crowd and some homemade chili, was the panel discussion with Police Chief Jeff Grubbs, City Manager Gary Williams, Fire Chief Ted Lomax and John Lenzini, the city's building and neighborhood services manager.
Grubbs said his department continues with an emphasis on community policing, outreach and neighborhood stabilization. He said burglaries are down and that the number of chronic nuisance proceedings -- getting bad renters out -- was up. He said he has increased the number of foot patrols and expanded the force's presence on social media.
Lomax talked about the fire department's efforts to provide and install detectors and how his officers helped with the holiday Toys for Tots program and the annual five-day fire-prevention program for fifth-graders.
Lenzini talked about his See, Click, Fix program, where residents can take a photo and report an incident with their cell phones.
Question for the panel ran the gamut from bike patrols to new trash cans, and from ways to increase home ownership to ways to improve the quality of rental properties and deal with bad renters.
"We could go to crime-free housing," Grubbs said, "preventing people who have committed crimes from renting. But at the end of the day, the best way to make Carbondale a better place to live is by working together."