CHARLOTTE COUNTY — There were two times when suspicious vehicles passed through the Adorn Avenue neighborhood and it didn’t sit well with homeowners. It was a warning sign for Valerie Van Valen, who didn’t want to see the wrong element start to get comfortable in a place she cherished so deeply, so she decided to do something about it.
At the first meeting in the Van Valen home, there were 15 like-minded neighbors who felt as passionately about the issue as Van Valen did. They wanted their way of life to remain both safe and viable, and they also wanted to take care of themselves, to be responsible for their own homes. It was then that the Adorn Avenue Neighborhood Alliance was born.
“No one wanted to see a drug problem in our neighborhood. It really was a wake-up call for me,” she said.
Two years later, there are now more than 40 members in the Adorn Avenue neighborhood watch group, and it has grown beyond just monitoring the five-block, 100-home boundary members consider to be their neighborhood.
Their meetings, like the most recent one held Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church of Port Charlotte on Hariet Street, also act as an information hub for members, providing items like crime statistics, neighborhood updates and presentations by community leaders, educators and emergency personnel.
The group has evolved to the point where neighborhood kids are picking up trash on their own during the weekends. Port Charlotte High School student Jimmy Laurin, 15, made a presentation to the group about how picking up trash is helping him gain valuable community service hours as a member of the National Honor Society.
“We moved on to a level where everyone makes sure everyone else is safe,” Van Valen added. “Our group functions well. It’s really fun, and it’s nice to know your neighbors and see them on a regular basis.”
The Adorn Avenue Neighborhood Alliance is one of 50 such groups recognized, registered and assisted by the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, according to CCSO Crime Prevention Specialist Dale Phillips.
Once a group is formed, Phillips said, the CCSO provides signs and vests, and teaches members how to patrol. But the Sheriff’s Office does not run the group, and the individuals are on their own.
The groups keep neighborhoods safe, but they also lend a hand to law enforcement along the way. Authorities inform groups to only observe criminal activity, and to not, under any circumstances, engage those who may be in the midst of wrongdoing.
“The whole goal is to get more eyes and ears out there to assist the Sheriff’s Office,” Phillips said. “And they’re interested not only in their own quality of life, but the community as a whole.”
A new take on ‘neighborhood’
The neighborhood watch concept has a different look in Punta Gorda Isles, where the Neighborhood Marine Watch, which just entered its third year, patrols the 50 miles of canals at night.
Founded by Bill Guenther, the 80-member group takes turns patrolling the waters by providing equipment in an effort to protect the community. Guenther said members keep an eye out for people stealing fishing equipment and boats, and they also try to spot illegal fish-netting. They also have provided safety boats during the Freedom Swim, and have removed navigational hazards from canals.
As the group’s president and organizer, Guenther praised the volunteers who get up in the middle of the night to make sure Punta Gorda waters are safe. He added the group does not engage criminals or potential criminal activity. It merely acts as another set of eyes for law enforcement.
“The mission is simple: We go on the water at night and provide a service to the community. If you’re inclined to do volunteer work, it’s an excellent way to do it,” Guenther said.
Punta Gorda Police Lt. Joe King said there are roughly 32 neighborhood watch groups in the city, including the Neighborhood Marine Watch. Much like the Sheriff’s Office, PGPD authorities tell all of the volunteers to look but don’t engage.
King added that the marine watch has helped to curb the number of crimes along the city’s canals and has become a well-known, established presence in the community.
“We’re not having any of those problems anymore. (Criminals) now know to just turn around and head the other way,” King said.
For more information about forming neighborhood watch groups in Charlotte County, contact the CCSO at 941-639-2101. And to learn more about the Neighborhood Marine Watch in Punta Gorda Isles, contact Guenther at radioman3029@