I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the discussion about how we can make our community better. As Scott Hunter has stated in his column, "It's a simple question that has complex answers." It's somewhat like working to complete a puzzle with many pieces and having to search for the correct spot for each piece.After 60 years without a shooting death of an Aiken Public Safety officer, over the last two months, two families have suffered tragedies with the deaths of their loved ones, Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson and Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers. Our community has shown great support, respect and love by rallying around these families and the Department of Public Safety employees. City Council and City staff are sincerely grateful for this support.The question now is what can be done and what can we do to make our community better, safer and eliminate acts of aggression and other criminal actions in the future. In my view, there are things that can be improved. As citizens of our community, I think we have a responsibility to be proactive, within our limitations, to make our community a better and safer place to live.Let's consider the first things many citizens did when they heard of the recent tragedies. They did the most important things - they started praying for the families, visiting them and helping them with their needs. There were thousands of citizens involved in prayer groups around the community, and there are continuing fundraisers to help the families with their needs.Suppose we all did this throughout the year with families that needed help! Suppose we prayed more for those who protect us in the good times and the bad! Can we do that? Sure, we can.Let's consider our younger generation who are our leaders of tomorrow. There are needs in many families, especially one-parent families, with children who may need a positive role model in their life and perhaps after-school mentoring. Are we as citizens doing all we can do to help them now and also help prepare them for the future?There are many organizations that either have after-school help or work with our youths in one way or another. One I'm really familiar with is the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club. They do a very good job after school helping the youth, as needed, with their homework, character education, computer training and working with each other. The concern is they are limited and need additional community support, as do many other organizations.From a city government standpoint, our City Council and staff try very hard to make our city as safe and nice as possible. Our highest priority is the safety of our citizens. I think we all realize that we live in a dangerous world and no city is immune from some sort of criminal activity. Over the years, the City of Aiken has been blessed in many ways and has been a safe city when compared to many other cities. This said, we will continue to seek ways to improve and give highest priority to our public safety.Several other positive actions the city has taken over the years are, in year 1999, Aiken became the first Character City in South Carolina and introduced character education opportunities in the schools, businesses and in the city government. To date, with the assistance of volunteers and school staff, schools have recognized more than 3,100 youths for their positive character and each year approximately 250 additional students are recognized. City government holds a one-hour character education opportunity each month for its employees, and the public is also invited to attend.In addition, both Public Safety and the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Departments combined, work with and provide guidance to thousands of youths every year and have established athletic activities and other programs for all ages.Several Public Safety officers and the First TEE of Aiken organization are working together with youths who would not otherwise be introduced to golf. In addition, they are providing meals and helping with homework assignments when needed.Other efforts of the city have been to work with contractors, churches, the Aiken Corporation and several other organizations to renovate homes, construct new homes, add sidewalks and street lights in order to re-establish communities. This has enabled many citizens to buy a nice home at a reasonable price.Thanks to our Aiken County citizens approving the one-cent sales tax and the State of South Carolina, we will be able to make major improvements to our city infrastructure needs, as well as improvements to several major roads. These are all positive initiatives that add to the improvement and safety of our city.If you are interested in any of these opportunities that have been mentioned, and there are even more, to help our community become even a better and safer place, please get in touch with either one of these departments, the City Manager's office or me.I want to thank you for what you are doing. With your help our city will become better and safer. With each of us doing our part, we can make a positive difference in our community. This is one piece in the Aiken Standard's special series, "How Do We Make Our Community Better?" Click here to visit our site dedicated to the series.
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