Mayor John Shwed promotes the 'Good Neighbor Initiative' in Laurel

By Tony E. Windsor

Laurel Mayor John Shwed is determined to do what he feels a town's leader should do-lead. A number of years ago the mayor led a charge to encourage residents to clean up their properties and do little "spruce up" jobs that could help promote Laurel's small town charm. This led to a town-wide clean-up project that became an annual event.

Now, on the heels of one of the worst economic downturns in the country's recent history, Shwed is hoping to instill encouragement and pride among the citizens of the Laurel community. Recently, Shwed introduced what he is calling, "Laurel's Good Neighbor's Initiative." It is an attempt to promote what he says is a "comprehensive evaluation of techniques to improve quality of life for all Laurel residents."

The mayor says hard economic times have created a degree of negativity and some feelings of frustration among people throughout the country and he knows this is no different for the people of Laurel. "We have been through a few years of economic struggle and it has been difficult on everybody," he said. "But, we can work together to help build up pride in the community and create ways for our citizens to feel good about what we have here in our little town."

Shwed is suggesting a number of ways to accomplish the mission of his initiative including finding opportunities to improve local housing stock, reduce trash and litter throughout the community, and improve the overall neighborhood environment. He has offered suggestions on how each of these dynamics can be implemented.

Improve housing stock: Seek ways to secure funds for condemning and demolishing homes too distressed to repair; seek help from organizations such as the Laurel Redevelopment Corporation; develop a "Homesteading Program" whereby home ownership is promoted and distressed properties are bought, remodeled and then sold on condition of home ownership; feature homes in Laurel where owners have made significant improvements to curb appeal; encourage others by example to do the same.

Reduce trash and litter: Encourage blocks to take on keeping their streets free of litter similar to the State's "Adopt a Highway" Program; a local "Adopt a Block" program. Shwed said for this to be successful there is a need for landlords and tenants to participate.

Improve neighborhood environment: Encourage citizens to report undesirable behavior to the Laurel Police Department; Laurel Police Department to reinforce community policing initiative slowed by personnel turnover. Shwed said he also recognizes that for any community to prosper and maintain a strong quality of life component it is necessary to have jobs. He considers this to be a significant supporting factor in the overall scheme of his initiative. For this he has also expressed ideas on how the town can help to maintain and grow job opportunities: continue to work with State, Federal and County governments, Laurel Chamber of Commerce and others to bring more jobs to Western Sussex County; continue Laurel commercial development as means to create more jobs and add new services for our people.

It is Shwed's goal to help encourage community residents to take pride in the town and do their part to help improve quality of life in Laurel. One way he plans to do this is to seek out examples of homeowners who are doing their part to make improvements on their properties that contribute to the overall quality of Laurel.

One such example is a property owned by Greg and Donna Adkins of West Street. Greg Adkins, a small business owner, said he and his wife had made plans to do some home improvement work, but the project seemed to take on a life of its own. The Adkins family has lived in their home for the past 26 years. It is 112 years old and when they took on the challenge of remodeling, they went full steam ahead.

"We remodeled inside and out and went right down to the dirt floors," Greg Adkins said.

In 2011, Adkins said it was on one particular day when the skies were overcast that he heard what sounded like rushing water. He assumed it had started raining and was not concerned. However, when he realized that there was no rain he was forced to investigate what could be making the sound. What he discovered was a small leak behind a wall had grown and water was literally gushing. This led to massive remodeling inside the home, including a utility room and downstairs bathroom. However, after taking care of the downstairs bathroom it was decided to move upstairs and remodel there as well.

Concerned about a property next door that was in deteriorating condition and the impact it might have on their property value, the Adkins purchased the home and had it torn down.

Along with the extensive work on the inside of their own house, the Adkins also took on outside renovations, including the installation of privacy property fencing that necessitated the building of a custom-made entrance gate. They have installed irrigation and planted new grass on the property.

The Adkins repaved their driveway and built a 30'x40' garage with 10-foot doors. The original porch on the outside of the house was torn off and a new open country-style porch was constructed. The roof of the porch and the garage were installed in one day by local roofing contractor Phil Thompson. Another major portion of renovation took place when the Adkins decided to replace windows in their home, all 35 windows.

Mayor Shwed said he recognizes that what Greg and Donna Adkins did to improve their home is extraordinary and may not be representative of what everyone may be able to, or want to do. However, he feels that it represents an outstanding example of how personal pride in property can transfer over into the community at-large.

"I commend the Adkins family on what they have done with their home and property," he said. "Not everyone can do something as significant as this, but everyone can do something. Any small improvement or action to spruce up a property can really make a difference. This is what I am hoping to promote in our community of Laurel."

demolishing homes too distressed to repair; seek help from organizations such as the Laurel Redevelopment Corporation; develop a "Homesteading Program" whereby home ownership is promoted and distressed properties are bought, remodeled and then sold on condition of home ownership; feature homes in Laurel where owners have made significant improvements to curb appeal; encourage others by example to do the same.

Reduce trash and litter: Encourage blocks to take on keeping their streets free of litter similar to the State's "Adopt a Highway" Program; a local "Adopt a Block" program. Shwed said for this to be successful there is a need for landlords and tenants to participate.

Improve neighborhood environment: Encourage citizens to report undesirable behavior to the Laurel Police Department; Laurel Police Department to reinforce community policing initiative slowed by personnel turnover. Shwed said he also recognizes that for any community to prosper and maintain a strong quality of life component it is necessary to have jobs. He considers this to be a significant supporting factor in the overall scheme of his initiative. For this he has also expressed ideas on how the town can help to maintain and grow job opportunities: continue to work with State, Federal and County governments, Laurel Chamber of Commerce and others to bring more jobs to Western Sussex County; continue Laurel commercial development as means to create more jobs and add new services for our people.

It is Shwed's goal to help encourage community residents to take pride in the town and do their part to help improve quality of life in Laurel. One way he plans to do this is to seek out examples of homeowners who are doing their part to make improvements on their properties that contribute to the overall quality of Laurel.

One such example is a property owned by Greg and Donna Adkins of West Street. Greg Adkins, a small business owner, said he and his wife had made plans to do some home improvement work, but the project seemed to take on a life of its own. The Adkins family has lived in their home for the past 26 years. It is 112 years old and when they took on the challenge of remodeling, they went full steam ahead.

"We remodeled inside and out and went right down to the dirt floors," Greg Adkins said.

In 2011, Adkins said it was on one particular day when the skies were overcast that he heard what sounded like rushing water. He assumed it had started raining and was not concerned. However, when he realized that there was no rain he was forced to investigate what could be making the sound. What he discovered was a small leak behind a wall had grown and water was literally gushing. This led to massive remodeling inside the home, including a utility room and downstairs bathroom. However, after taking care of the downstairs bathroom it was decided to move upstairs and remodel there as well.

Concerned about a property next door that was in deteriorating condition and the impact it might have on their property value, the Adkins purchased the home and had it torn down.

Along with the extensive work on the inside of their own house, the Adkins also took on outside renovations, including the installation of privacy property fencing that necessitated the building of a custom-made entrance gate. They have installed irrigation and planted new grass on the property.

The Adkins repaved their driveway and built a 30'x40' garage with 10-foot doors. The original porch on the outside of the house was torn off and a new open country-style porch was constructed. The roof of the porch and the garage were installed in one day by local roofing contractor Phil Thompson. Another major portion of renovation took place when the Adkins decided to replace windows in their home, all 35 windows.

Mayor Shwed said he recognizes that what Greg and Donna Adkins did to improve their home is extraordinary and may not be representative of what everyone may be able to, or want to do. However, he feels that it represents an outstanding example of how personal pride in property can transfer over into the community at-large.

"I commend the Adkins family on what they have done with their home and property," he said. "Not everyone can do something as significant as this, but everyone can do something. Any small improvement or action to spruce up a property can really make a difference. This is what I am hoping to promote in our community of Laurel."

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