LOCKPORT — By Bill Wolcott
HARTLAND — Starting a neighborhood watch is a difficult task for anyone, according to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department.
Consider a 17-year-old freshman at St. Mary’s for the Deaf taking on the task in the rural communities of Hartland, Middleport and Gasport.
James Solomon, who was declared functionally deaf as an infant and has a speech impairment, is doing the job.
The Stone Road resident has set up a Web site, printed business cards, made professional signs and brings in speakers for his monthly meetings at the Hartland Town Hall on Ridge Road.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Chief Deputy Steven Preisch said at the Saturday morning meeting. “In our society, people are so busy; it’s not until they are victims that they come to be involved. It’s tough to get people involved.”
Deputy Roger Haseley and Preisch spoke to an audience of six: Solomon; his mother, Tonia Scarborough; a neighbor; a volunteer fireman; a councilman; and a reporter.
Solomon, who also is a junior volunteer fireman, was not deterred by the small attendance. His mom supports him along the way and helps with some of the words he had trouble saying.
“He has his own style,” said Supervisor William Annable, who has noted Solomon’s interest at the town board meetings. “He’s difficult to understand, but his heart’s in the right place.”
Annable recalled that the youth was instrumental in getting a used clothing pick-up bin at Hartland Fire Hall. Solomon has worked on fire company projects with the school.
“James has great sensitivity for someone his age,” said Paul Crowley, the director of students at St. Mary’s. “He’s a joy. He very respectful, outgoing and well-liked. He’ll engage you. He’ll stop in my office and say ‘hello.’ He’ll address people.”
St. Mary’s has a media center at the school, and Solomon has become technology savvy. Today’s communication technology is even better for deaf people, according to Crowley.
“He’s determined. That’s part of his makeup,” Crowley said. “His mom is supportive. Despite the distance, she’s here.”
Sheriff James Voutour assigned Preisch and Haseley to the meeting to support Solomon’s effort.
“We were contacted by James, and he is a very determined young man,” Preisch said. “It’s a big challenge, because it’s a rural community that doesn’t have a huge crime rate. It’s difficult to get people to get together and pull together. It’s a big undertaking for him, but he’s continued to strive and make it happen.
“For a teenage boy to want to do this, to get involved and not to get discouraged is very impressive,” Preisch said. “It’s a challenge, but he gets across to you what he wants.”
Haseley, who is in charge of community services, noted that other neighborhood groups are centered in a 1-mile area. Solomon hopes to garner neighbors from a wide area.
“He’s got a much tougher job than any of these. He’s going to continue. He’s going to make it work. James is going in the right direction,” Haseley said. “He has a goal. He wants to help the community and he’s not letting his disability stop him from what he wants getting done, done.”
Solomon, his mother and his sister, Amanda, 21, work on the project at home. They will run their ideas by neighbor Andrea Santos, the wife of a state trooper.
“He works very, very hard for the program,” Santos said. “He’s really an awesome kid. He really is very enthusiastic about it. He keeps trudging. He doesn’t get discouraged easily at all.”
Santos, the mother of three, was not sure her neighborhood needed a watch group, initially. Now, she’s becoming a believer. “We do need this in the area,” she said. “It gets citizens to look out after each other. I’m hoping it picks up more. It’s a very good thing for our community.”
Councilman Joseph A. Reed said: “He’s a little young yet, but he’s getting some super adult help from his mother. He’s dedicated to this. He’s really working hard, and that impresses everyone in the town. I don’t know if a watch is what we need, but for neighbors to keep an eye out for neighbors makes a world of difference. There is always a need for assistance. That’s what Jimmy’s trying to push for.”
Solomon takes a bus to St. Mary’s for the Deaf in Buffalo, a trip that takes 45 minutes to an hour. He gets home about 4:30 p.m. each day.
Solomon has speech problems that stem from the fact that he is functionally deaf. “For the most part, people pretty much can understand him,” his mother said. “If they don’t, I can re-say what he’s talking about. Sometimes he reads lips and signs.”
The school has also helped Solomon with new technology. He helped design a Web site at school and uses a SMART board, according to his mother. His older brother, Scott, who now lives in Pennsylvania, helped Solomon get started with computers.
He signed up for a Video Relay Service on his own. The VRS allows deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired individuals to communicate over video telephones with hearing people through a sign-language interpreter.
“He did that himself, too, without telling me,” his mother said. “He got on line and got everything set up.”
The idea for a neighborhood watch was his own. Solomon read police reports and kept note of crime in the area.
“He just thought there was a need for people to watch out for their neighbors,” Scarborough said. “We have elderly neighbors on one side. They were watching out for me, and we were watching out for them.”
The next meeting of the Neighborhood watch is 10 a.m. Feb. 27 at the town hall. The public is invited.
Contact reporter Bill Wolcott
at 439-9222, ext. 6246.
LOCKPORT — By Bill Wolcott
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