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Breathing new life into civic pride

Thursday, April 21, 2005

By EVA LOAYZA

Staff Writer

TRENTON - A group of Villa Park residents is working to revive the Villa Park Civic Association.

A handful of residents met at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Columbus Avenue yesterday to further discuss the "rebirth" of the organization.

While they said the past two association meetings had seen better attendance, those neighbors that did make the meeting were optimistic the effort would gain momentum with time.

"We've got a good neighborhood," said Sister Ruth Durfee, who hoped the association would help keep "this hidden corner of God's world safe."

Acting chairman Charles Thomas said the association has been inactive for about eight years because of a lack of interest and apparently some internal politics. "It became less about the neighborhood and more about people's needs and desires," Thomas said.

This time around, they hope the association will serve as an outlet for residents to work together to make Villa Park a safer neighborhood, Thomas said.

"It may be an old-fashioned idea, but not a dead one. We're not trying to recreate the ancient idea of a neighborhood association; we are trying to reinvent it," he said.

On the list of challenges to overcome are slumlords and crime.

Thomas said the neighborhood has many homeowners who take care of their properties. However, there are also some real estate investors who have purchased properties in the area who have been unwilling to renovate them or have leased them out to tenants "that don't care and wear the property to the ground," Thomas said.

He said the association hopes to bring a balance between the two so that the good families in the neighborhood don't have to move out.

East Ward Councilman Gino Melone, who was born and raised in Villa Park, remembered the many events hosted by the association while growing up. Considered the "eyes and ears" of neighborhoods, Melone said he was glad residents had taken up the charge of bringing back the civic association.

Melrose Avenue resident Joanne McDonough served as president of the civic association when it was up and running in the late '80s.

McDonough said she is happy the association is making a comeback, adding, "Now we really need it."

McDonough said she called the mayor's office to inquire about a shooting that occurred in the neighborhood Sunday, but said she was told they did not know about it - a less than comforting response, she said.

The next association meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 200 Columbus Ave. Contact Eva Loayza at

eloayza@njtimes.com or at (609) 989-5717.

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Last modified: April 23, 2005