Residents ask for change in central Columbia community

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COLUMBIA - Dozens of residents from Columbia's central neighborhood brought their concerns to a community meeting on Thursday night.

Elected officials, City of Columbia staff members and community outreach officers from the Columbia Police Department were at the meeting to listen to residents' concerns.

Some of the main issues community members brought up were problems with housing, neighborhood involvement and safety. 

Organizers said they wanted to turn conversation into action, so residents suggested things like having more neighborhood meetings, community policing and developing programs to educate community members about job opportunities.

Nikia Belcher is a small business owner and said sge didn't have access to a lot of resources when she opened her boutique.

"I think they should have access to grants and different loans, and access to community events and more support, being that new businesses need that extra welcoming kit," Belcher said.

Belcher also said she wants the community to address problems felons face when they reenter society.

"I think there should be more outlets for them as far as education and systems where they can basically come back and be successful," Belcher said. "Steps to helping them or rehabilitation programs will help as well."

Nikki McGruder, the regional manager of the diversity awareness partnership for the City of Columbia, said she has family in the central neighborhood area, so she has a personal connection to the problems she wants to help residents solve. She said although the city has had meetings like this in different parts of the city, it seems like similar issues keep on coming up.

"I know we've gathered all of this great feedback, and absolutely we want to take care of everything that our residents have brought up, but we have to start somewhere," McGruder said. "So, we're identifying now what is that? What is that one area that we want to focus on right now that just kind of gets us started in this process of bettering the quality of life in our neighborhoods." 

McGruder said the next step is to find solutions to the problems they have identified. She said the goal is to have residents take leadership on the problems they see.

"They're taking the change and see the change that they want to see," she said.

McGruder also said she is proud of neighbors for coming out to community meetings and sharing what is important to them.  

Another meeting aimed at improving the central neighborhood will be on April 25. Organizers said they hope there's an even bigger turnout at that meeting.