Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
MINERAL HEIGHTS, Clarendon, is in a position that makes it both attractive and vulnerable. The attraction lies in its proximity to the highway and, by extension, convenient access to Mandeville going west and the Corporate Area heading east, as well as the parish capital May Pen.
That, however, also makes it vulnerable. Mineral Heights is also at the start of the road to Hayes, parts of which have hit the headlines in very bloody ways in the last few years, with murders an all too regular occurrence. But, Mineral Heights has so far been spared from the violence.
It is not, The Sunday Gleaner soon learns on a visit to Mineral Heights, sheer luck. There are inherent advantages - the community's orderly physical layout shows a high degree of planning and immediately projects an aura of calm. Several of the homes have been extensively remodelled and speak to a certain level of prosperity, although that can attract criminals.
Maybe they have been attracted. But the residents of Mineral Heights are not lax. They not only watching out for criminals - the standard neighbourhood watch sign is up - but actively build institutions and programmes that contribute to the sense of community.
And, in this case, the process of institution building includes a physical building for community development activities, which opened in February this year. Donated by the National Housing Trust and outfitted with equipment through the United Access Fund, it is the hub of community activities.
Open every day from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., save for Saturdays and Sundays when it opens a bit later, the office hosts a computer centre and a number of activities for residents.
"One of the things we have around here is a strong Community Development Organisation and Citizens' Association. There is a strong police youth club and the message is clear," said Sherral Archer, who is secretary of both adult groups.
It does not mean that the community has escaped the violence totally unscathed. "It was most unfortunate that we had the fatality of a young man in the community. It was most unfortunate and senseless," Archer said. "There are break-ins now and then."
However, in a backhanded way these interruptions in the general calm underscore the underlying strengths of the community. The person who attacked the young man is not from the community and the break-ins occur when people are off at work, indicating a high level of employment.
According to Archer: "We are a well-knit society. We look out for each other." And she smiles as she said "We are a bit nosy. If I see you and I have not seen you around before and you are not going to somebody then I am going to question you. We are nosy in a good way."
Added to that is a good relationship with the police, which includes a community policing initiative. Not only will the police drive through but they will also stop and converse with groups of persons - not with individuals, as there is still the possibility of the 'informer' stigma.
Archer said recently there were some young men, who were not residents of Mineral Heights, in the community with guns. It was early evening and, when called, the police were on the scene promptly.
The police are not needed for the early morning walking, though, with residents - and even people from other areas - puffing away as early as 5 a.m. Plus, there are watering holes which open late into the night without problem.
Archer singled out Hugh Cross and Everald Simms from the United Access Fund for their co-operation and said the organisation was "really great to work with. Most times they were waiting on us, we were not waiting on them".
While there are two legitimate driving entrances into Mineral Heights, Archer says persons have created two illegal entrances and the citizens are determined to close them down.
With an estimated 4,000 residents, Archer said, "It's early days yet, but we are building ... . We have to build a legacy for our children and children's children."