By Joel Hall
For 15 years, Riverdale's Hearts to Nourish Hope organization has offered a helping hand to the hungry, as well as to the area's wayward youths. Nestled inside a church building on Scott Road, the non-profit operation hosts a food pantry, a youth summer employment program, and several education and diversion programs for at-risk teenagers.
At 6:45 a.m., on Thursday, Hearts to Nourish Hope Executive Director Deborah Anglin came to work to find the organization had been burglarized for the first time since its inception. "There was sawdust all over the floor and there was a footprint in it," said Anglin, describing the scene. "There was a footprint where they tried to kick in the door ... This is the first time somebody has broken in and taken anything in 15 years."
Sometime between 9:15 p.m., Wednesday and 6:45 a.m. Thursday, vandals damaged windows, smashed doors, and stole at least three desktop computers and other equipment. According to Riverdale Police Chief Samuel Patterson, one or more burglars entered the building through a side window.
"Someone with some kind of prying device made entry through one of the lower-level windows by prying it open,"
Patterson said. "A number of the offices that are inside the church were secure, but they used fire extinguishers as sort of a battering ram to gain entry into the offices ... from a police perspective, this is probably somebody who has been in the church before," he said.
Anglin said the burglars entered six different rooms, smashing the locks and doorknobs. She said the thieves damaged several other doors in an attempt to enter other offices in the building, causing at least $5,000 worth of damage.
"One [of the stolen computers] was a student computer, one was an administrative computer, and one was mine," she said. "Mine had grant, program, and financial information on it. It could have been a lot worse. A lot of my student computers weren't touched, so that is really important. They are taking GED classes, resume-building, looking for jobs, and [doing] other educational activities [on those computers]."
Over the course of this summer, Anglin said, Hearts to Nourish Hope has placed 510 teens and young adults in summer employment opportunities in Clayton, Henry, and Fayette counties, with 80 percent of those students coming from Clayton County.
Throughout the year, she said, the program also runs: A GED program, in which high school dropouts can earn a degree; a Suspension Center, where suspended secondary school students can obtain school course credit; and an Evening Reporting Center, a diversion program for juvenile offenders, that offers inspirational speakers, life-skills training, and educational field trips.
Anglin said repairing the damage from the burglary will be costly, and the time and resources needed to replace their equipment will likely impact their grant-application process, a vital part of the organization's operational budget.
"The biggest thing it is going to do is slow up our administrative process, reporting, and applying for grants," she said. "We'll have to see if there is money in the budget we can shift, and if we spend money on security, where is that coming from?"
"We would hope that anybody who has any knowledge of this activity would bring it to our attention,"Patterson said. "A lot of the young people are engaged with activities with her [Anglin], and it keeps them off the street, keeps them from gang activity, and generally keeps them out of trouble. If they didn't have that kind of program in Riverdale, heaven only knows what some of these kids would be involved in."