Program promotes Christ and safety in East Side neighborhood.

By John W. Goodwin Jr.


Rockford Village recently has been in the news for two highly publicized homicides, but members of the business and religious communities are hoping to show the area is safe by way of a children’s program and Easter celebration.

Most people can remember the shooting of 8-year-old Bryce Linebaugh, who was killed in the early morning of Aug. 20, 2012, as he slept in a bunk bed at his Maplewood Court home in the housing development. His killer is serving life in prison.

There also is the Feb. 1 shooting death of 53-year-old David Stokes of Columbiana County, who was shot and killed in the complex in what police believe to be a drug deal gone bad. The accused gunman in that case is awaiting trial.

Aphynna James, a volunteer with the Center for Community Empowerment, which operates in the Rockford Village complex, said those stories taint what otherwise is a safe community with caring people and decent children. She and other business owners in the city want to promote that message.

“What we are trying to do is target that area and give the kids a positive message,” she said.

To do that, the Center for Community Empowerment and its business partners will have an “Easter Gospel Easter Celebration” from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. March 23 at the center on Dogwood Lane. The event will include free activities, food and Easter baskets for kids.

“This is a gospel event, and we hope to heal the minds of the kids throughout the city with a focus on that area around Rockford Village,” James said.

The event is for children age 3 to 14. Security will be provided.

Registration forms for the Easter program can be picked up at any of the partner businesses: Foster’s Party Shop, Legend’s Barber Shop, All-N-One Beauty, Annie Hall and Gleaners Food Bank, CCS Trans Inc. and George’s Flower Shop. The deadline to register is March 16.

“We are asking people to register because it gives us a count. Each child will get a basket and be grouped by age to participate in the activities,” James said.

Ella Peterson, center administrator, said the event will be a good time for the community to learn of the center’s many programs such as life-skills training, day care, after-school programming, tutoring and programs for those being released from prison and re-entering the community.

“The kids are here to have fun, but they are also here to learn, and we want to promote that,” she said.

Her husband, the Rev. Willie Peterson, who runs the center, said, “Obviously, we want to share the Easter story with the community, but I definitely want people to realize that Rockford Village is a safe place to live and have fun.”

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