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This housing project is trying to keep kids from heading to wealthier areas to trick-or-treat

Debria Williams, 7, plays a ping-pong toss game at the community center for a Halloween trick-or-treat event hosted by the resident council of the Alder Grove housing complex. The council is trying to keep the kids from leaving the complex to go trick-or-treating in Land Park or Curtis Park.
Debria Williams, 7, plays a ping-pong toss game at the community center for a Halloween trick-or-treat event hosted by the resident council of the Alder Grove housing complex. The council is trying to keep the kids from leaving the complex to go trick-or-treating in Land Park or Curtis Park.

The yards of the Alder Grove housing complex are usually filled with children playing on a crisp fall afternoon.

But on Halloween, it turns into a “ghost town,” said Renita Williams, vice chair of the resident council. In the four years she’s lived in the public housing complex just off Broadway, she has watched kids get dressed up, get into cars and drive to other communities, like adjacent Land Park, to go trick-or-treating.

On Tuesday night, kids from the complex dressed like witches, ghosts and ghouls were walking down Muir Way toward Land Park. But first they had to pass the brightly lit Alder Grove Community Center, where the sounds of children playing spilled out of the open doors.

Buoyed by donations solicited from within the complex and the surrounding neighborhood, Williams and the resident council threw a Harvest Festival in the center Tuesday night for the children of Alder Grove and its neighboring complex, Marina Vista. Longtime Alder Grove resident Carolyn Smith served hot dogs while other community members ran games, passed out bags of candy and hosted a raffle.

Smith said when she first moved to Alder Grove more than 30 years ago, kids would trick-or-treat around the community. She’d buy “vats of candies” to pass out. Now, her children take her grandchildren to other neighborhoods or to church celebrations.

“I’m just a resident in here who’s tired of seeing our kids going outside to have fun,” she said. “We want to go back to having these kids come back and feel safe in our home.”

A couple dozen kids and parents came out to enjoy the celebration, which Williams labeled a successful outcome for a nascent community group.

The festival is one of the first events hosted by the council, which came together about a year ago after Williams spoke a city council meeting about an offensive flier distributed by the complex’s management, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency.

Williams said within a week of her testimony, city and county representatives and SHRA staff met with her to talk about getting residents more involved with running the complex. The resident council was born out of that conversation.

The goal is to “just to get engaged and show the rest of Sacramento that we’re not just the projects,” Williams said. “We’re more than that, we’re people with motivation and we’re people with drive.”

Things are moving slowly, she said, because she and the other council members are new to community organizing. They’re figuring out how to publicize their efforts and run meetings as they go. For the Harvest Festival, they struggled to get permission to use the community center because another group usually uses the room on Tuesdays.

“We’re still taking off because we still need the engagement” of the residents, Williams said. “I just feel like (hosting this event) is a really big milestone we’re hitting and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.”

Smith, who is not on the council but attends a lot of meetings, said she thinks events like the Harvest Festival are a good way to begin building trust with the community. About eight people regularly show up for the meetings, she said, but she expects more people to come as the group makes its presence known around the complex through these events. A turkey dinner is planned for mid-November, and Williams said she’s setting up a women’s empowerment workshop for early 2018.

“They see ‘You know what, they really care about us,’” Smith said. “That’s what we want to leave with them: ‘We’re here for you guys.’”

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

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