John F. Kennedy once said, "The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger, the other for opportunity" and "One person can make a difference and everyone should try."
If the former president had said those two quotes in 2010, he could have used long time Tewksbury resident Walter Maciel as an example.
Spurred in to action by a reverse 911 call to his house, Maciel, 76, felt it was time to seize the opportunity and make a difference in the neighborhood he has called home since the early 70s. The call that came to his house told of an increase in house and car break-ins in Tewksbury. Maciel, who is no stranger volunteerism, took it among himself to start a neighborhood watch in the Kennedy Road area.
Supplied with information from the National Sheriff's Association, a meeting was called and 55-60 of his neighbors showed up at Tewksbury Police station to speak with Safety Officer Jenny Welsh.
Naturally, the residents were concerned about the potential for crime seeping into their leafy Tewksbury neighborhood. But what happened at that meeting was more than an exchange of information of how to combat the rising tide of criminal activity.
"They showed up and then I had them all identify themselves," said Maciel. "By identifying themselves we got to meet each other for the first time. Living in this neighborhood, we know just what's right around us…now we identified ourselves and the whole neighborhood got to meet each other."
In an era in which chatting with someone online in California is easier than chatting with someone across the street, this neighborhood watch was accomplishing two things: Decreasing crime and uniting a neighborhood.
With the completion of the preliminary steps, it was time to have the neighborhood watch signs put up around his neighborhood. Maciel was able to collect money from everyone in the neighborhood and with the permission of Town Manager Richard Montuori, and help from DPW Superintendant Brian Gilbert, Tewksbury Police Chief Timothy Sheehan and Safety Officer Jenny Welsh, the signs were put up at all three entrances.
"The neighbors are getting a sign," said Maciel. "They're getting decals for the front and back of the house. And maybe donating to some charity. That's a pretty good deal."
Maciel was clear to point out that this isn't a vigilante group that walks around with guns, flashlights or other weapons looking to take in the bad guys. They only want people to be more aware of their surroundings and report suspicious activity.
"The goal is to be aware of what is going on around us. Be vigilant. Report and suspicious activity to the police…and don't get involved with anybody who looks suspicious. Call the police," said Maciel. "The police need all the help they can get. They can't be everywhere at all times … even if it doesn't turn out to be anything, that's a precaution we take …That's preventative maintenance."
Walking your dog at night and taking note of your surroundings or going around the block once or twice before you leave for the night are the types of preventive maintenance that keep neighborhoods safe and flourishing.
As for the future of the Neighborhood Watch, Maciel says he's looking to create a database. Neighbors will be able to quickly communicate with each other about the goings on around the neighborhood. If a house is broken in to, a water main breaks or a gas line explosion occurs, neighbors will soon be able pass that information to others at the speed of light.
In the case of the Kennedy Road neighborhood, it seems as though advancements in technology are being used to bring them closer together, rather than force them apart.
"The future with this neighborhood is that we can stay connected," said Maciel. "I know that everyone is busy with their lives … there is so much going on. But if we can set aside a night every three or four months just to get together at the police station … that would be nice if we can keep that connection going."
Keeping that connection going is what will keep the program alive and the neighborhood safe. With safer streets and more trusting neighbors, communities will only grow stronger and more unified during these tough economic times. Walter Maciel's Neighborhood Watch may be unique to the area around Kennedy Road, but the potential to grow to other neighborhoods around Tewksbury is strong.
Maciel says that he is uncertain about the potential of other 'Watches' springing up around town.
Spend time with Walter Maciel and its easy to recognize a man whose life experience may be 76 years, but he has the energy of an 18 year old young man. That youthful spirit and innovation is what built the Neighborhood Watch near his home and is why he's be a perfect candidate to provide information to other potential 'Watches.'
Much like a doting father sending his child off on his own, Maciel realizes his time in a leadership position is limited and that a new individual will soon be "driving the neighborhood." The National Sheriff's Association recommends that Neighborhood Watch leadership should change every so often, which is fine with Maciel.
"I'm 76, and I'll be passing on and I'd be leaving something that helps my family and my neighbors," he said.