The En­clave’s HOA: 'Peace, No Vi­o­lence'

The Covington News - - NEWS - SAN­DRA BRANDS sbrands@cov­

Two men were killed ear­lier this month in­side the gated Or­chard Cove apart­ment com­plex. Be­cause the apart­ments sit in­side the en­trance of The En­clave sub­di­vi­sions, it’s easy to as­sume they are part of The En­clave.

Even some of the chil­dren liv­ing in the apart­ments think they have ac­cess to The En­clave ameni­ties — the pool, pavil­ion over­look­ing Gross Lake and ten­nis and bas­ket­ball courts. That’s not the case, said Awilda Gon­za­lez, pres­i­dent of The En­clave’s Home Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (HOA).

Known to most peo­ple liv­ing in The En­clave as “Miss Windy,” Gon­za­lez said, “Or­chard Cove in an in­de­pen­dent en­tity.”

In the wake of the al­leged Or­chard Cove mur­ders, the HOA has hung a sign at the en­trance of the sub­di­vi­sion: “Peace, No Vi­o­lence.” Out­side the pool house is a ban­ner that reads, “The En­clave Against Vi­o­lence.”

There’s lit­tle doubt the al­leged mur­ders have af­fected res­i­dents of The En­clave, Gon­za­lez said. “It af­fects home­own­ers when the streets are taken up by [sher­iff’s] cars. At some point, the [sher­iff’s] of­fice does a search and will call on peo­ple in the sub­di­vi­sions as part of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“When you come to a place of res­i­dence and you see the sher­iff’s deputies, it causes stress,” she said. “Peo­ple can feel their chil­dren aren’t safe, that the neigh­bor­hood is go­ing down.”

In an­swer to the res­i­dents’ con­cerns, the HOA held a meet­ing on July 10 to talk about how to deal with the vi­o­lence. Gon­za­lez said 45 res­i­dents at­tended, and she re­ceived calls from many more.

One of the things the HOA will do is fence off the area around the ameni­ties, mak­ing it pri­vate and ac­ces­si­ble only to res­i­dents of the three sub­di­vi­sions that make up The En­clave: High Gate, Lake­wood Es­tates and The Re­serve. Home­own­ers pay an as­so­ci­a­tion fee that cov­ers the cost of share ar­eas, such as the pool.

Other things the HOA is plan­ning in­cludes, Gon­za­lez said, “hav­ing small block gath­er­ings to give tips on how to be safe and just to min­gle and get to know your neigh­bor.”

The HOA board will help peo­ple in each neigh­bor­hood with the gath­er­ings.

“We’re try­ing to bring light to the com­mu­nity in mid­dle of all this mad­ness,” she said. “We’re try­ing to do good. We are show­ing there are so­lu­tions. In­stead of hold­ing your re­mote, come out and so­cial­ize with your neigh­bors. If you just sit in your house and crit­i­cize the place will fall apart.”

Gon­za­lez, who has been the pres­i­dent of the HOA since last year, has lived in The En­clave for 14 years. Even be­fore her stint on the board, she was ac­tive in mak­ing the com­mu­nity safer and a bet­ter place to live.

Work­ing with the New­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice (NCSO), she started a Neigh- bor­hood Watch a few years ago. The sher­iff would meet with res­i­dents an­nu­ally for Neigh­bor­hood Watch train­ing and to of­fer tips on be­ing safe. Sher­iff Ezell Brown is sched­uled to re­turn to The En­clave on July 21.

“We work very closely with NCSO,” Gon­za­lez said. “Last year, we gave them a plaque for all the great work they do in here. They’ve been very re­spon­sive to our re­quests.”

Gon­za­lez takes the Neigh­bor­hood Watch very se­ri­ously, some­times walk­ing the neigh­bor­hoods late at night to make sure it re­mains safe. At other times, she will take to task a res­i­dent break­ing the HOA’s rules. “I’m not afraid to knock on some­one’s door if there car is parked in the grass and tell them it doesn’t be­long there.

“Peo­ple trust us [the HOA board],” she said. “When­ever there’s a prob­lem here, they call Miss Cookie or me.”

Miss Cookie is Caro­line Sut­ton, who has not only lived in The En­clave for 14 years, she’s on staff and spends time at the pool. She helps serve the lunches do­nated by Bread of Life De­liv­er­ance (BOLD) Min­istries daily. The lunches are for chil­dren, the dis­abled and se­niors.

When the lunches are gone, Sut­ton said, “snacks are given out. There’s al­ways some­thing to eat.”

“Kids tend to talk to [Miss Cookie],” Gon­za­lez said. “There’s al­ways an adult here the kids can come to. That builds re­la­tion­ships with chil­dren.”

That’s im­por­tant to the HOA, Gon­za­lez said.

“We want kids to know you’re not alone,” she said. “We want you to reach out to some­one [when there are prob­lems]. We’re al­ways look­ing for ways to help.

“For me, ev­ery­thing is about the chil­dren hav­ing good role mod­els and what they’re ex­posed to,” she said. “The en­vi­ron­ment mat­ters. If you have a healthy, clean place, it’s good for chil­dren.”

As part of the pro­grams su­per­vised by the HOA, there is bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment for chil­dren. Gon­za­lez said there are 37 par­tic­i­pants.

“It’s worth hav­ing these pro­grams so we can lessen the risk of teenagers get­ting bored, cu­ri­ous and in trou­ble,” she said. “We have a com­mu­nity that comes to­gether.”

An­other pro­gram of­fered is ask­ing four to six teenagers to vol­un­teer and work with a mon­i­tor one day a week to care for the pool area, mon­i­tor ac­tiv­ity, open gates and in­ter­act with peo­ple. “It teaches them to come on time, how to be­have at work and de­vel­ops work ethics.”

In re­turn, they are given a small re­ward at the end of sum­mer.

“It doesn’t mat­ter whether you’re a vol­un­teer or a paid em­ployee, work ethics are work ethics,” she said. “With the way the world is go­ing, this vi­o­lence and hate and dis­re­gard for life, we need to of­fer al­ter­na­tives.”

The HOA also hosts a late night swim for fam­i­lies, and one for adults. The Fri­day night movie is go­ing to be restarted as well, she said. There are com­mu­nity pic­nics on Memo­rial Day, the Fourth of July and La­bor Day. Twice a year, a com­mu­nity yard sale is held, rais­ing money to help sup­port the pro­grams The En­clave of­fers its res­i­dents. In fall, the com­mu­nity holds a fes­ti­val.

A for­mer com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, Gon­za­lez has a B.A. in Be­hav­ioral Sci­ence and a Mas­ters in So­cial Work from Hunter Col­lege in New York. She seems to be bring­ing some of those skills to her care for The En­clave. “I love this place,” she said. Though the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the HOA are to main­tain The En­clave’s common ar­eas and fa­cil­i­ties, “this board is com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that keep chil­dren en­gaged. It’s an is­sue of safety. When you have some­thing for chil­dren and teenagers to do, it’s safer.

“There was a time when there was a lot of van­dal­ism,” she said. “I’m not go­ing to say this com­mu­nity is per­fect. We live in an area with a lot of crime that ef­fects how The En­clave is seen. The lo­ca­tion is stig­ma­tized and it’s un­just to the home­own­ers. We don’t have much crime in the neigh­bor­hood.”

The Neigh­bor­hood Watch pro­gram and the in­stal­la­tion of cam­eras through­out The En­clave’s sub­di­vi­sions have helped with that, she said.

“We’re very ac­ces­si­ble to res­i­dents,” she said. “We can be con­tacted by phone, email … On Thurs­day, Fri­day and Satur­day, one of the board mem­bers is at the pool.”

And while it takes time to change things, she said, prop­erty val­ues in neigh­bor­hood have gone up since last year.

Re­cently, the HOA paid to have 96 lots cleaned up. They had been left va­cant af­ter builders with­drew from The En­clave for fi­nan­cial rea­sons nearly a decade ago. “They be­came a garbage dump,” she said. “There was eight years of ne­glect.”

Once the lots were cleaned, she said, peo­ple no­ticed. The Ar­chi­tec­ture and Land­scape com­mit­tees of the HOA start- ed a “yard of the week” pro­gram, plac­ing signs in seven yards in ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the res­i­dent’s work.

“Peo­ple are com­ing for­ward and spir­its are up,” Gon­za­lez said. Peo­ple are be­com­ing more in­vested in the neigh­bor­hood with all the changes, she said.

In ad­di­tion to news­let­ters, fly­ers and meet and greets, the HOA board sends wel­come bas­kets to new home­own­ers. They are look­ing at ways to make ten­ants feel as wel­comed, Gon­za­lez said. “It will help in­vest them [in the com­mu­nity].”

In the mean­time, Gon­za­lez said the HOA would like to meet with the own­ers of Or­chard Cove. “They need to come for­ward and re­al­ize they need to screen their renters. There are re­tired peo­ple and sin­gle moth­ers with chil­dren liv­ing in this com­mu­nity.”

San­dra Brands | The Cov­ing­ton News

From left, Pa­tri­cia John­son, Awilda Gon­za­lez, HOA pres­i­dent, and Pa­tri­cia Slowly, HOA vice pres­i­dent, stand be­neath a ban­ner hung in re­sponse to the re­cent mur­ders at the nearby Or­chard Cove Apart­ment com­plex.

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