Operation Porchlight tries for a safer trick-or-treat

October 18, 2012|By Adam Lukach, @lucheezy | RedEye

People say that two wrongs do not make a right. Last Halloween, however, realtor Kay Cleaves had an idea to attempt just that.

As a realtor, Cleaves receives yearly questions from tenants about how they can distribute candy from non-ground-floor apartments, and she often has little to offer them. It was in response to these complaints that Cleaves, 35, considered the empty houses in her neighborhood of Albany Park.

"I see the effect that the empty houses have on a neighborhood. They attract vandals, gangbangers, people hanging out, and I saw Halloween was the worst night of the year for vandalism," said Cleaves, a realtor from Albany Park. "So I thought, 'Why don't I combine Part 1 with Part 2 and see if we can do some good in the neighborhood?' "

Her idea has manifested itself this year in the form of Operation Porchlight, an initiative that aspires to pair small groups of volunteers with a foreclosed home from which to distribute candy for trick-or-treaters.

"I needed a piece on my blog, so I figured, 'Why not run it?' Last week a couple friends said, 'Hey, we would want to do this,' so suddenly it was like, 'Hey, let's get this moving.' Of course [they] would tell me with 17 days left."

But despite the late start, Cleaves has been able to gain "amazing traction." She began by contacting the 17th District Police Department as well as the alderman's office, receiving mostly positive responses regarding a project in its infancy. Lining up volunteers and houses has proved to be more difficult, but as a real estate agent, she has connections ("realtor-fu," she called it) that most don't. She also has modest goals.

"We're starting small, maybe 10 houses and 20 volunteers, because I have to visit all the houses and see that they're safe," she said. "Afterward, I have to go to every house to do a quick run-through to see people are leaving them in good shape. I don't want to have to go through 50 houses at night."

Cleaves said all volunteers will be appropriately screened for sex offenses and the like, to make sure they can be trusted around children and the houses. They will also carry brochures to inform neighbors of their presence and, if wearing a costume, are required to make it family-friendly and to not cover their face.

"Our prime directive is to keep th eneighborhood safe for kids. Our second is to protect properties," she said.

This form of "positive loitering" alerts potential vandals that attention is being paid  to these properties, said Cleaves. It also shows volunteers potential real estate of interest and safeguards the houses.

The project will occur from 5 to 8 p.m. on Halloween, and for right now is limited to the 17th District, mostly in Albany Park. Cleaves said she hopes Operation Porchlight takes hold, but emphasized that this year would be a modest beginning.

For more information, visit operationporchlight.com or send the group an email at staff@operationporchlight.com.

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