Aug. 26, 2007 The Northside Civic Organization is looking for more than a few good men and women.
Specifically, it's looking for a new leader, and some dedicated North Side volunteers to follow the leader.
Ann Durante-Arnold, after five years as the guiding spirit behind the organization, is moving to the states in October, a move she makes reluctantly. After 25 years on the island and three children, it is not a happy decision for her.
But the organization has made remarkable strides since it was reactivated about five years ag. On another level, it has spurred civic interest in the area, binding residents together to effect change.
Durante-Arnold says a new leader will have to take a "can do" attitude. "I was so sick of all the whiners saying 'we can't do it'," she says. "I told them, 'yes we can.' We can make a difference."
Among the notable differences the organization has spearheaded is the permanent opening of the Northside Fire Station, a long uphill battle, and refurbishing and renovation of the Estate Dorothea Tot Lot.
When Durante-Arnold took the reins in 2001 in reactivating the dormant organization, the fire station was the sole reason, but that has flourished into myriad other projects.
The organization had called together a number of government officials to hear its concerns. They were invited to share ways to reactivate the island's dormant fire stations, Dorothea in particular, but also Bordeaux.
Durante-Arnold didn't pull any punches. She told her audience, "We're paying for this service. We pay property tax and income tax for basic services. There's been lots of blame going back and forth this afternoon. I don't really care whose fault it is; I want to know what you're going to do tomorrow when you go to work."
It took the better part of the next five years to get the Dorothea Fire Station permanently staffed. Without the station, it took a good 35 minutes for trucks from the downtown station to reach the area.
She says the fire station was "permanently" opened about a year and a half ago. "But there's always little stops and starts," she says.
Durante puts her heart and soul, and sometimes her body, into her challenges.
At one point, some senators expressed doubt about the severity of the pothole problem. When the senate met again, "I showed a picture of me standing up to my shoulders in a pothole," she says. "We had Public Works on it the next day."
Though she enjoys a flair for the dramatic, Durante-Arnold is dead serious about the neighborhood issue. Renovation of the derelict Estate Dorothea Tot Lot became an overriding concern of the organization, brought closer to home to Durante-Arnold because of raising three children of her own in the neighborhood.
In January 2002, members of the organization met with then Housing Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ira Hobson and police officials to address the Tot Lot's decline into a breeding ground for late-night parties, drug dealing and other crime. At that point, members of the North Side group already had plans well in the works to renovate and upgrade the lot.
Over the course of about six weeks, a group of volunteers transformed the abandoned, derelict North Side property into the playground it was intended to be.
Between 20 and 30 volunteers — including a group of youngsters from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission's Clean and Preen program — showed up steadily on Saturdays to dig footings, pour cement, plant bushes and put equipment together.
In May, the organization called on Gov. John deJongh Jr. to address neighborhood problems in a town hall meeting at the Hull Bay Hideaway.
Accompanied by St. Thomas-Water Island Administrator Barbara Petersen and officials from the Waste Management Authority and the V.I. Fire Service, deJongh fielded questions from more than 100 North Side residents and listened to complaints and concerns for nearly two hours.
The governor told the group that within the week Petersen would be traveling throughout North Side neighborhoods with Public Works Commissioner Daryl Smalls and members of the community to locate specific areas where lack of retaining walls was causing large rocks and dangerous debris to clog guts and spread across roadways. He said Petersen would also be identifying areas where abandoned cars and trash are collecting.
"They have come and taken action," Durante-Arnold says. "They are working on Spring Road."
With obvious reluctance, Durante-Arnold mulls over her upcoming move. "I really don't want to leave. All my children have been born here," she says. "But I just can't afford to raise three kids on this island."
The project closest to her heart that she would like to see completed is the sidewalk repair from the Sibilly School James Monroe Annex to the Tot Lot. "The kids have to walk in the road, to go to the playground, and it's so dangerous," she says.
The organization numbers about 40 now, Durante-Arnold says. "I would like to see more members, especially families who have lived here for generations." Dues for the organization are annually $25 single, $35 a couple, and $75 lifetime, with separate dues for corporate members.
"We do this because we love the island," Durante-Arnold says.
For information on the Northside Civic Organization, call 998-1916.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.