Kids play at the splash pad at Northgate Park on June 21, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

When a young man was murdered in Northgate Park in May 2009, Eduardo Angulo feared the shooting would lead to chaos and retaliation in his neighborhood.

“It was going to be a summer of hell,” Angulo recalled.

The victim, 21-year-old Montez Bailey, had been walking his puppy in the park with friends when he was apparently targeted at random by shooters police said were involved in a local gang.

Angulo, a longtime northeast Salem resident and community activist, lives on the edge of the park. He convened local pastors and community leaders in hopes of preventing further violence.

Soon after, they began hosting Friday evening gatherings for families at Northgate Park, cooking hot dogs, offering face-painting and inviting residents to come relax and escape the summer heat.

The events were organized by the Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality, a Latino parent advocacy organization Angulo helped found. As they grew, they included efforts to get parents more involved in their kids' schooling and help with reading and other activities.

Several years later, the nonprofit moved its reading program to another venue and the park gatherings stopped.

Now, Angulo is bringing them back.

He’s the chair of the newly formed Hallman Neighborhood Council, the first group created as part of a citywide effort to engage parents in some of Salem’s most challenged neighborhoods.

Jim Seymour, the former executive director of Catholic Community Services, is leading the project. It’s part of a collaboration between Salem business, nonprofit and education groups convened two years ago to address social problems and create environments where every child born in Salem can be successful in school and life - regardless of the neighborhood they live in.

“If kids aren’t ready for kindergarten, their chances of reading at grade level at third grade are greatly diminished,” Seymour said. That, in turn, makes kids less likely to be successful in school and ultimately graduate.

“It keeps kids who are in poverty in poverty,” he said.

Seymour is helping set up family councils, starting with Hallman, but it’s up to the parents in each group to decide what resources, events or other actions could make their neighborhood stronger. Each council is focused on a local school and will work toward helping more kids be ready for kindergarten and successful once they get there.

Angulo said bringing back Friday events at Northgate Park emerged as an early idea when the Hallman council began meeting.

Starting July 9, the council will debut “Fun Fridays at Northgate Park,” to run weekly from 4-7 p.m. until August 27. Each week will have a theme, free food and booths from community organizations that will offer families help finding health care and ideas for getting children ready for school.

This time around, the gatherings will be larger with more social service organizations represented.

The neighborhood saw a spike in shootings early in the year, and Hallman school employees told council members many families feared letting their kids go outside.

“The families don’t want to leave their apartment because they’re afraid,” Angulo recalled hearing.

Making the park a place where families are comfortable gathering is one goal, but Angulo and the council have larger aims.

They hope the gatherings can help make life a little easier for families living in one of Salem's poorest neighborhoods - by building relationships between neighbors, giving them a chance to learn new skills and helping them understand how to prepare their kids for success in school.

Twenty-five local organizations have signed up for the first event, Angulo said. Covid vaccines will also be available.

Angulo said the council has invited Salem police officers to come meet local families and help dispel fears of law enforcement. He said the neighborhood needs good policing, where officers and residents know one another.

“We’re asking for community policing. We don’t want police officers just to pass around the neighborhood in their patrol cars. We want them to be on a bike, we want them to be on the beat,” he said.

Angulo said the neighborhood council effort appealed to him because it gave families the ability to get to work in their own neighborhoods instead of waiting for city decisionmakers to take action.

He said in the years he's worked in Salem, he's been to tens of thousands of meetings about everything from improving local schools to policing.

“We have been talking for so long,” Angulo said. “I’m tired of talking.”

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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