It’s hard for Javier Mondragon to forget the morning of May 16.
The pastor of Grace Point Church of the Nazarene’s South Campus, Mondragon was in the living room of the parsonage next door to the church at 5100 Gaywood Drive when he heard shooting just before 1:30 a.m.
Lots of shooting.
“I went to the floor,” the 33-year-old father of two boys says. “Then I called the police.”
More than 30 bullets had been fired, police later reported, striking houses across the street in the next block to the south on Gaywood.
The incident, Mondragon says, was frightening. But instead of pulling up stakes, he and his wife, Annette, are staying put – and, with congregational volunteers, redoubling the efforts of one of the church’s ministries.
For about four years, the congregation has been sending volunteers to clean up and beautify the neighborhood, one block at a time. Now the church’s Bridge of Grace ministry will tackle neighborhood safety issues as well.
“When we first came to this church, we went out knocking on doors in the neighborhood. We were asking ‘What was the biggest need?’ What we heard, time and again is, ‘We don’t feel safe,’ ” Mondragon says, noting the area has seen other violent incidents in the past.
Through Bridge of Grace, the church is partnering with the Fort Wayne Police Department to help residents work through home safety checklists of simple things to help prevent crime.
The list includes measures such as trimming bushes outside homes so no one can hide behind them, taking down tree limbs that might be used to access upper-story windows, adding outdoor lights, installing timers and motion sensors, securing building entry points and improving locks.
They’re things that residents might not think of or might not be able to do on their own, Mondragon says, adding that the neighborhood includes many elderly people and single mothers with limited incomes.
He says church volunteers will work two Saturdays a month to help neighbors make improvements. He hopes the program will be able to buy or subsidize needed items.
Bridge of Grace is incorporated as a charitable nonprofit and has received organizational grants from community and denominational sources, Mondragon says. But the ministry likely will seek additional donations in upcoming months, he says.
Future hopes include starting a Neighborhood Watch program, reactivating a neighborhood association or becoming a model for other neighborhoods, according to the pastor.
Last month, Bridge of Grace helped Vivian Saunders at her ranch home on Devonshire Drive near the church. Volunteers trimmed some bushes and cut down overhanging limbs in the backyard.
“They were things I couldn’t do myself,” says Saunders, 47, a special education teacher’s aide who works for Fort Wayne Community Schools.
“They did a real good job, yes. I feel better,” she says.
Mondragon says the church is working on the premise that one way to deter crime is dealing with the perception of neglect.
“It’s called the broken-window syndrome,” he says – if an area looks run-down, people get the impression that no one cares, and a criminal element moves in.
But caring also can be contagious, he says.
Mondragon recalls one day when church members were picking up trash in the neighborhood and a couple of kids outside playing saw them.
“They went back inside and got a bag and started picking up trash with us,” he says.
“On a spiritual level, from the beginning, we feel that this is the place where God wants us to be,” Mondragon adds.
“I feel we are here to make a difference. We want to be the salt, the light, and if we run, nobody is going to be here to make the difference.”