ATWATER — There's more going on in Atwater than some people might think.
Through regular meetings and a website, community organizations are coming together to keep students safe, active and engaged in positive activities.
The group is called Atwater C.A.U.S.E., which stands for Community Advocates United for a Safe Environment. It began after Rep. Dennis Cardoza spoke to the Atwater City Council. Several leaders decided something needed to be done to bind the community together and battle youthful crime.
One of the group's founders is retiring Atwater Police Chief Richard Hawthorne. He called the group's Internet presence and organizational structure a work in progress but wanted to dispel a prevalent belief.
"People say there's nothing to do," Hawthorne said. "There are a lot of things to do that a lot of people in the community don't know about. Another major goal is to assist community groups in working towards reducing violent crimes in the community."
Another founding member of the group is Paul Lundberg, an Atwater minister. Lundberg said the group, formed more than two years ago, got bogged down and the biggest challenge is to get local organizations to use the website.
"Our purpose is to create a safe environment in the community," Lundberg said. "We are working to get more people involved in the community and look out for each other."
Retired Merced Union High School District Superintendent Robert Fore joined the group early and is a facilitator at the biweekly status meetings held the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at noon at the Brooks Ranch restaurant on Bellevue Road.
Fore said Atwater C.A.U.S.E. is a clearinghouse that supports and publicizes existing youth opportunities. Listings on the group's website are free for participating organizations.
The group is a partnership of schools, churches, law enforcement, businesses and civic groups, with a wide assortment of interests represented, Fore said. "Kids need to be active and it's up to the rest of us to provide positive opportunities so they can be active," Fore said.
Atwater Police Department Officer Joe Hoffar is president and director of the Police Activities League as well as a group proponent. "It's a group of different people working together to provide resources for the community," Hoffar said. "It appears different groups are joining us."
Hawthorne said the group is working to make its website more useful. About two dozen groups were represented on the website directory, down from about 60 organizations listed earlier.
One of the group's next goals is to hold a Community Day in the spring where local groups would be invited to set up booths and activities. "A lot of organizations are doing double-duty," Hawthorne said. "It's tough to get people to stay involved. They just don't know what's out there."
It's possible in the future the group may try to address unmet needs in Atwater. Hawthorne intends to stay involved with the group even after he retires as police chief.
Fore said it takes three actions to control criminal street gangs: prevention, intervention and suppression. Parents need all the help they can get to keep their children safe.
Lundberg said the group may venture into various Atwater neighborhoods to boost awareness, particularly about the website.
The group's website is www.atwatercause.org.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.