Augusta, Ga. (WJBF) - Brad Means: Rick Keuroglion is the executive director of City Hope Alliance and I appreciate Rick, you being here today. Thanks for the work y'all do.
Rick Keuroglion: Yeah, definitely, it's a pleasure.
Brad Means: WelL, I was gonna say, okay Rick, so you fix up distressed neighborhoods, and I guess there's some truth to that, but it's more, you'll fix up a distressed neighborhood if everybody in the neighborhood buys into that, right?
Rick Keuroglion: That's right, yeah.
Brad Means: How did that get started and how does the whole process work? I know that's a broad question but let's just start with how do you spot a neighborhood in need?
Rick Keuroglion: Yeah, so typically I don't go looking for them, I definitely would rather be referred to sit and talk to a neighborhood. It all started with moving into Old Town, and people told me not to do it, you know, "That's not where you should go"
Brad Means: How long ago was it?
Rick Keuroglion: So that was 10 years ago.
Brad Means: Right, okay.
Rick Keuroglion: But, I know something differently though, I've lived in downtowns of nice cities and they all start like that and since that neighborhood was close to downtown, I knew that it was gonna come back. But, it was interesting to me, when you think of Augusta, what I heard back then was all negative things, I heard of a term called Disgusta and I heard the oppression and dilapidation and negative and I thought, "No, people don't understand, "this is not what it is." If people could only understand another side, see assets that are close by, see the relationship that are here, see that the downtown really has a lot of great resources and such passion here and there's people that are really willing to do things together. And so I think that's really where it started, getting to know people, connecting, listening to what people really want in the neighborhoods and then doing those things.
Brad Means: So are you talking about saying to others on the outside of Old Town, for instance, "Please come move down here near me, you'll love it." or are you talking about existing neighbors, "Y'all, we need to have more community spirit, "if we do, it'll spread."
Rick Keuroglion: Yeah, it's kind of both, actually. It depends on the person I'm talking to. If someone really has a Pinion spirit, then that's sometimes the best ways to really do great change, or you work with those inside who really have a heart to see their neighborhoods change. And you listen to what their ideas are, ideas of where it used to be. It's almost like a redemption story. You hear the things of the past and the glory days of what it used to be, and you begin to long, how did it get this way? What caused the hardships? And then you begin to work with solutions to overcome those hardships.
Brad Means: Well Rick, once you sense that that spirit exists, and once you have the initial buy-in, what do we start seeing in a distressed area? Lawnmowers and paint?
Rick Keuroglion: Well, yeah. It really comes down to the simple projects and they usually start off with beautification projects. Like picking up trash, doing a garden together, fixing up the signs of a neighborhood, cutting down branches that have fallen, painting fences, starts with simple things and then it builds into big things. It builds on, "Hey, we did this together, what next?" And then people come up with great ideas and then they start moving to, "Well what's the issues that's contributing to this?" So maybe it's drug dealing, maybe it's a bad school where you decide together, go into that school and start tutoring kids.
Brad Means: Yeah, I was gonna ask you, you know. There are some times, many times, elements in an area that need to be removed, does the influx of good people drive out the bad people, typically? Or do you need outside help? Law enforcement, et cetera? How do you make it so that a neighborhood is completely transformed? From a crime standpoint.
Rick Keuroglion: From a crime perspective, what I have gathered is relationships are the most powerful element to drive crime out, 'cause usually what happens is the crime controls the neighborhood. If a drug dealer controls a neighborhood, they live in oppression, then nobody will call on him. But if you can flip the power and create relationships with the people, then people begin to look out for themselves and for their neighbors. Then, that's where the action comes in, you start building relationships, no longer do I look out just for my property, I look out for my neighbors properties. That is powerful where then you start by doing small things, gatherings together, maybe block parties, dinners. We started doing local dinners every Tuesday night, and we had 50 to 100 people coming each week. Then it moved into like a movement. There's excitement to turn your neighborhood around and so that's what we do, we help empower neighborhoods that do that.
Brad Means: It is as if you had a cristal ball when you believed in Old Town, wasn't it? Because look at it now. Downtown is booming, as you predicted and Old Town has never been more beautiful and getting better by the moment. All right, so say somebody's watching and they say, "Hey, empower me, my community's run down," how's the whole thing start?
Rick Keuroglion: So, it starts off with usually one or two people coming together. Of having a dream to do something. All it takes is doing something to you neighborhood, getting people together in you neighborhood, collaborating with them and starting small. And then coming back and regrouping and figure out what's next. And it's momentum, it's always leads to bigger problems, bigger issues get solved and then there's wins for the neighborhood.
Brad Means: Can local governments, do local governments help you? If so, how does that work?
Rick Keuroglion: Yeah, so, I partner with local officials and local departments. So, Code Enforcement, Marshals Office, Environmental Services, Parks and Rec. We work with them regularly and we collaborate with them with other non-profits as well. That's the excitement of, I feel like, the graced contribution that we can do is we bring people together. We're not the originators of this, we just love bringing people together, bringing groups together, bringing entities and departments. When we share ideas and resources we can accomplish a lot more together than we could alone.
Brad Means: How does that translate, sometimes, into economic impact? Companies, big or small. Restaurants, bars, coming to areas once this process has begun. Do you see those businesses wanting to come?
Rick Keuroglion: Oh, absolutely. The first stage is our singles and college students, they move in. And then your second generation becomes young families, they're looking for good schools, typically they don't come downtown, but some of these do because there's some really good schools downtown, people forget. You have Heritage Academy, you have Davidson, CT Walker, AR Johnson, Curtis Bapt-- I mean, there's a lot of great schools downtown, people forget about that. But the most exciting thing is when you put your kids into the public schools, those schools start getting better. You start contributing to them.
Brad Means: Is there money to be made for the real estate investor, for the developer?
Rick Keuroglion: Well, it takes someone who has a long-term vision. So, someone could buy property right now and build a home, but you're gonna have to be patient, it's gonna come back. And so that's that best thing is having that person that has a desire for the long-term. Oh, you're gonna do well in Old Town, in Harrisburg. Harrisburg is, to me, one of the fastest growing areas right now. It's around the city. I mean, the center of the city, you have all establishment around it, it's coming back.
Brad Means: It is, it was once booming and thriving and it is turning, I can feel my Harrisburg viewers, though, saying it needs to move faster, we need more involvement from all parties. What's a hot spot right now? Is it all downtown-centric? Where's a neighborhood that we should keep our eye on?
Rick Keuroglion: Laney Walker Bethlehem is hot right now. It is exciting to see what's going on when people who collaborate together have vision and it's centered around the medical institutions around there, the dental. I mean, it's like what Hawthorne Welcher's doing. I mean, it is incredible, I think that's where the fastest growing boom is going to happen right now.
Brad Means: He does such a great job, and has such a positive outlook. Talk about those med students and those new people. How do you get in front of them when they don't know where to go? They don't know what CSRA stands for, how do you get to them and say, "No, no, "y'all come here"?
Rick Keuroglion: I'm serious, med students, college students, they love entertainment and we have a lot of that downtown. You have so many things, so many assets that draw people together, they love to gather, they love to interact and be social. If they love that kind of stuff then downtown is where they wanna be, that's where they should be. You have great housing options, it's very affordable and you get to be there with your friends. You can walk to the bars, to the restaurants, to the river. You have all kinds of entertainment options so I think that's where med students need to be. They need to be as close to the camp as they can, but as close as to the social night life kind of thing, there's just so much going on.
Brad Means: We can be Greenville, can't we? We can be Chattanooga, can't we?
Rick Keuroglion: That's right, we're on our way.
Brad Means: What do you need from folks? How can they make City Hope Alliance stronger and better?
Rick Keuroglion: So, if you want to get involved, I would say, you can look me up, you can go on our website and if you have a neighborhood that you long to see come back, I'd love to talk to you. If you have a heart to help our downtown, then we are still trying to demolish some old abandoned homes. We would love for you to help us make Augusta better and make it thrive again. So join with us to see some of these dilapidated areas be restored again.
Brad Means: Rick, thank you so much for that, I wanna put some information up on the screen. If you wanna get in touch with City Hope Alliance there's their website, there's their address. And if you wanna wonder what the future looks like for our great town, talk to Rick and his team, they're at the forefront of it. Rick Keuroglion, have a great Thanksgiving and Christmas and thanks for being here.
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