Nearly mowing over a mysterious ladder in her backyard helped Barbara France to realize her Flat Rock neighborhood needed some attention.
Neither she nor the man who owned the ladder knew how it got there, but that wasn’t what bothered the 40-year Eleanor Avenue resident.
“I found out he’d been living up there with his family for ten years,” she said of the ladder’s owner. “It was the first time I had met him. I was like, that’s a shame, I don’t even know my own neighbors.”
France had called the police about the ladder, which yielded another concern.
“They were asking me if the drug problem had gotten any better over here. I told him I couldn’t tell any difference, because they just stand right out there in broad daylight on that corner (of Eleanor Avenue and Gaylon Street) and sell drugs just like it’s legal.”
The lack of cohesion and the drugs on the street seemed connected.
France thought a family friendly event might foster a stronger sense of community within the neighborhood, and The Timberlake Community Project was born.
“I went through the neighborhood and put a letter in everybody’s mailbox to see if they would like the idea of getting the community together,” just for fun, possibly on a monthly basis, she said.
The residents responded positively.
“A lot of the neighbors I talked to, they were wanting to do something about the drug problem. That’s when I decided to contact the sheriff’s office and see if we could get a Neighborhood Watch program started,” France said.
The Timberlake Community Project’s first event will be held Saturday at noon at the open lot on the corner of Gaylon Street and Eleanor Avenue.
In addition to a weenie roast – the real thing, with hot dogs cooked over a fire with a coat-hanger-skewer – and s’mores, activities are planned throughout the day:
• 1 p.m. – “Trunk or Treat” and costume contest for children and adults.
• 2 p.m. – A representative from the Surry County Sheriff’s Office will provide information on developing a Neighborhood Watch program.
• 4 – 6 p.m., 50/50 Bingo game, proceeds will go to the Timberlake Community Project.
Corn hole, face painting, balloon art and horseshoes will also be available at the event, which is free and open to any current or former resident.
On a flyer advertising the event, France wrote: “The purpose of this get-together is to get to know your neighbors and band together to make our community a place we can be proud of.”
The power of a name
France explained the name of the project stems from what the developer Robert Lovill originally called the neighborhood: Timberlake.
But the neighborhood is more commonly known as Simmonstown, a name with negative connotations that France hopes to change.
“Everyone knows that’s where you go to get drugs. We don’t want to be known for that,” she said. “We’re trying to clean up our community.”
France admitted she hadn’t had time or energy to devote to neighborhood affairs until recently.
She and her ex-husband husband built her house on Eleanor Avenue in 1976.
“We’ve been divorced almost 25 years,” she said. “I’ve been here by myself, trying to keep it up, trying to do everything myself. I had to work a lot; work day and night.”
With her children grown and out of the house, retirement in May changed things.
“I don’t have to work like that anymore,” she said. “I started looking and seeing what was going on in the neighborhood. I had never paid any attention, or was at home long enough to know what was going on.”
Some residents of the neighborhood feel powerless.
“They don’t really have a sense of trust with the police,” she said.
Surry County Graham Atkinson acknowledged the prevalence of drug activity in the area.
“At times areas up there have been like an open air drug market,” he said. “That’s one of those areas we are constantly investigating. There are also a lot of decent people living there.”
About the gathering Saturday and Neighborhood Watch, the sheriff said, “Anytime the community comes together with other agencies such as law enforcement or schools, it can’t be anything but positive.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.