Margot Ashley is president of SafetySmart Lilburn, a nonprofit with the mission of making Lilburn the safest community in Georgia. A nurse by profession, Ashley has lived in Lilburn with her husband, David, since 1982. She took time this week to sit down with Patch to talk about our community and what SafetySmart is doing to make it a safer place.
Patch: For those who don't know what SafetySmart Lilburn is, what's your mini-elevator speech on the organization?
Ashley: SafetySmart Lilburn started in July 2010. (Then-Lilburn Police Chief) John Davidson was starting neighborhood watches in his free time, and he formed a committee to help grow that. We realized there are only 11,000 people in the city, and crime doesn't stop at city limits, so we expanded it to include the whole 30047 ZIP code. SafetySmart Lilburn communicates with 45 neighborhoods, including neighborhood watches, homeowners' associations and COPS programs.
SafetySmart Lilburn was started to promote safety awareness, to build community and to improve communication. We have designed a program to help neighborhoods start a watch over a three month period. Members of SafetySmart will help get the watch organized and will continue to provide support after the residents assume full control. We also offer bi-monthly meetings to support neighborhood leaders in their efforts to build a stronger community.
We send out notices weekly to let people know what's going on in the community, and when someone sees something going on, they let me know. We include the Lilburn and Gwinnett County police so that crime trends can be detected.
Patch: How has SafetySmart Lilburn reacted to the Trayvon Martin case? Has it had any effect on SafetySmart Lilburn's message to homeowners' associations?
Ashley: I was really distressed when I heard about that, because I knew it would affect the way people see neighborhood watches. The whole point of a neighborhood watch is that you watch, you report. They are passive actions. When people start taking the law into their own hands, the outcome is going to be negative. That's just not what we're about. The whole point is to know what is normal so you can recognize and report what is out of the ordinary; to build relationships and be comfortable with each other. And if you're carrying a gun, people aren't going to be comfortable.
Patch: What's SafetySmart Lilburn's next project?
Ashley: Our youth survey is for middle and high school students at Lilburn Cluster schools. The link is http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/9V5MJZ8 for English and http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/9VHMMDD por español. The survey finishes May 25, and we'd like to be able to draw conclusions from that on how to involve young people. We'd like to see a youth gathering area in Lilburn.
The next big event for SafetySmart Lilburn is National Night Out on August 7. The Lilburn Police Department is sponsoring it, and SafetySmart Lilburn will be the organizer. We would love to have someone from every neighborhood participate in the planning and the event. We're also looking for safety-related vendors. We have a vet who's coming to talk about pets and safety, and the Red Cross has agreed to come. We will also have various public safety vehicles and participation by Gwinnett Police Department, as well as other community organizations. . .We will have more details as the summer goes on.
We're also applying for a grant for building community in the Lilburn area.
Long-range, we'd like to have business watches and fleet watches, which would include UPS and taxi drivers, people who drive the same route regularly.
Patch: What's your favorite thing about Lilburn?
Ashley: This new focus on transparency, for example the town hall meetings that Mayor Crist holds every month. And the fact that there are so many people working to make Lilburn a stronger community.
Patch: How do you envision Lilburn five years from now?
Ashley: I would like to see 50 percent of our neighborhoods organized with some sort of relationship-building, and 75 percent of citizens informed and involved in the community. I'd also like to see collaboration between the city, the county and communities. SafetySmart Lilburn is building the safest community in Georgia one neighborhood at a time - that's our objective.