Updated: Aug 10, 2022
LOKUS NGO PARKS VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
In 1996, 11-year-old Lokus Ngo arrived with his Vietnamese family in Des Moines. After attending Roosevelt and Hoover high schools, he graduated from DMACC, became a tax preparer, and in 2017 organized the nonprofit Watchmen Community. With a crew of five to 10 volunteers, they pick up 50 or more bags of trash on a weekend. In 2021, Lokus and the Watchmen spent more than 600 hours picking up trash in Prospect Park.
This year, Des Moines Parks and Recreation recognized Lokus Ngo as 2021 Volunteer of the Year.
“When I go to Prospect Park,” says Lokus, who is president of the group, “I talk to people. I go there with a purpose. A few of them now help pick up trash after I talk to them for so long! The litter is actually getting better.”
Never heard of the Watchmen Group? Many haven’t.
This organization of 100, rooted in the Vietnamese community, has a goal of watching over humanity, protecting the environment and strengthening the community. “We just go out to make changes,” Lokus said recently, while we talked at his tax preparation office on Euclid Avenue.
Besides adopting Prospect Park, the Watchmen Group has a food pantry. “We help people cook food on Wednesday—about 80 meals a week,” Lokus related. “We have a 5,000-square-foot community garden on Hickman. And we teach self-defense and martial arts through our youth leadership program.
“We call it the Way of the Watchmen.”
Lokus, who still has family in Des Moines, is the type of person who, when he sees a problem, does everything in his power to try to find a solution,” says Rachel Haindfield, Des Moines Parks and Recreation field coordinator. “His optimism, perseverance, and caring personality make him a great partner and community leader.”
276 CUMULATIVE YEARS OF POLICE EXPERIENCE— AND A BUSHEL BASKET OF STORIES In the first six months of 2022, nine Des Moines Police Department senior officers with more than 276 years of experience quietly retired and walked out the door.
One of those was Lt. Larry Davey, who stepped down on June 30 as head of the 15-member Neighborhood Based Service Delivery (NBSD) unit, which includes neighborhood officers, mobile crisis officers, and youth services.
Before joining the force in 1989, Davey played bass for a couple of years with an Ohio-based touring Southern gospel band. He then spent 20 years as an Indianola fire medic.
When he joined the Des Moines force, Davey drove a 1990 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. There were no in-car computers then. Instead, Davey relates, a Remington model 870 12-gauge shotgun was secured vertically in the front passenger seat.
“I started out with a raggedy used vest,” Davey recalls. “We had to buy our own vests and weapons. The Velcro on my used vest was about shot, and it didn’t fit very well.”
After working nights for a year, Davey was assigned to the Strategic Complement Against Thugs (SCAT) unit, an anti-gang squad formed in June 1990, when out-of-state highly organized gangs—Bloods, Vice Lords, Crips, and Black Gangster Disciples—gobbled up a lot of ink in The Des Moines Register. “They intimidated locals and fought turf wars with other rival gangs,” Davey recalls. “Our job was to interrupt gang activities.”
After two years with SCAT, Davey moved on to the Tactical Unit (now known as Metro
STAR), where he served as the medic on entry teams, dive master for underwater search and recovery, and led annual CPR and EMS in-service classes for officers. In 2004, around when drug prevention and meth labs made headlines, Davey was assigned to the Neighborhood Area Resource Coordinators (NARC) office. His career eventually led to the NBSD, where he succeeded Joe Gonzalez, who was injured in an off-duty accident.
All sorts of stories jump out from Davey’s 33 years with the force.
With the Tactical unit, part of Davey’s regular assignments was river patrol. In August 1998, he made headlines by rescuing a man floating in the Des Moines River. “Officer sees ‘swimmer,’ then saves him from drowning” grabbed plenty of eyeballs in the morning paper. A few years later, a driver who suffered a heart attack and crashed into Principal Financial’s corporate headquarters survived because Davey quickly responded and administered CPR.
But the best moment in Davey’s career never saw an inch of ink.
Des Moines Police have a long tradition of hosting a free pre-winter community car check-up. When he informed one woman her front tires had no tread and she needed to replace them before snow falls, she broke down; tires are not inexpensive. After hearing her story, Davey felt compelled to buy her two new tires. Lt. (now a captain) Dave Seybert thought the same thing, and they split the cost, at Scott’s Automotive. The officers were astonished when the bill seemed unusually less than expected.
“I questioned the low cost,” Davey says, “and Scott [proprietor Scott Weyer] told me that they wanted to have a part in this. All in all, we ended up splitting the cost three ways.”
Stories like that aren’t Davey’s alone—officers throughout the DMPD and across America do great things for citizens day in and day out, and no one ever knows. To accomplish many of those great things, officers reach into their pockets. “Not for the glory,” Davey notes, “but because that's who we are.”
SAVE THE DATE! On September 14th, we will be hosting our next Ice Cream Social at Waveland Golf Course Clubhouse. Be sure to mark your calendars! We'll be making more announcements, including special flavors for 2022. Stay tuned!
SUNFLOWERS IN FULL BLOOM
Need an uplift from the daily grind? If so, pedal on down to the Carl Voss Trail and bask in the glory of a 21/2-acre field of sunflowers in full bloom.
The sunflowers greet cyclists, runners, and walkers as they round a curve about a mile from Easter Lake.
Hey, I bet you’ll be smilin’.
IF IOWA’S HOGS AND CATTLE WERE HUMANS….
In May, I attended the William G. Stowe Citizen Water Academy at Des Moines Water Works, spending four Thursday afternoons immersed in details of water management and the challenges Des Moines and Iowa water users face. The agenda included a visit to the Des Moines and Saylorville water treatment laboratories, water regionalization, and the challenges of nitrate and phosphorus runoff to our drinking water.
Chris Jones is a research engineer with the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research. Jones initially calculated in 2019 that Iowa’s 20 to 24 million hogs produce the equivalent daily waste of 83.7 million humans. He’s updated his original numbers based on newer USDA data. All told, Iowa’s hogs, beef cattle, dairy cattle, laying chickens, and turkeys produce the equivalent waste of 168 million people. Jones calls this the “fecal equivalent population” (FEP).
Sadly, the waste from concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) is not spread evenly across Iowa’s fields. We are in deep…something.
Learn about when you can attend the next Water Academy.
TRANSFORMING COURT AVENUE
The City of Des Moines, Polk County Supervisors, and Operation Downtown have hired the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) to develop a template for a safe and inclusive Court Avenue District.
RHI senior consultant Jocelyn Kane spent four days in Des Moines meeting with stakeholders, including Des Moines police, restaurant and bar owners, and downtown residents. Before completing her assessment and report, Jocelyn expects to make four or five additional trips to Des Moines to help redefine Court Avenue into a safe and vibrant hospitality zone while supporting a nighttime economy. A report is expected later this year.
Jocelyn welcomes input. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NATIONAL NIGHT OUT BACK IN FULL SWING
Melanie Navarro, 6, sits patiently while Jenny Masic paints her face as part of National Night Out activities at South Union Elementary School on Aug. 2.
Three Ward 4 neighborhood associations —Magnolia Park, South Park, and Fort Des Moines—drew more than 100 residents for the festivities at South Union. The three associations are working toward a merger this fall.
Twenty-seven of the City’s 52 recognized neighborhood associations participated in National Night Out gatherings sprinkled around the City.
National Night Out: https://www.dsm.city/news_detail_T2_R430.php
NEW CNA WITH AN IMMEDIATE JOB
Kaiyona Russian, a Roosevelt senior-to-be, was recognized as a “natural leader” recently among nine graduates of the Training and Education for a Career in Healthcare (TECH) program at Broadlawns Medical Center.
Beaming beside Kaiyona is program director Dennis Henderson.
Graduates of the eight-week apprentice program, which started in 2016 and has had 16 graduating classes, complete basic and advanced certified nursing assistant (CNA) programs, and earn six college credits. And the bonus for this entire class: Broadlawns offered immediate part-time jobs to high school students, and full-time jobs to spring graduates. Kaiyona will work 4-hour shifts as a PRN (pro re nata or as needed).
Ivette Muhammad and Tim McCoy
CURE VIOLENCE PROGRESS REPORT
In December, the City awarded Creative Visions a three-year, $1.4 million contract to establish a violence interruption program in Des Moines. Second- and third-year contracts are planned using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Supervisor Tim McCoy and site director Ivette Muhammad have branded the local Cure Violence campaign as CV3 VIP for the three Creative Visions services: food pantry, crime-victims assistance, and violence interruption.
The group is not connected to the police department, Tim emphasizes. “The community can’t see us as a threat,” he says. “Our words mean everything. We're about encouraging the community to trust us and encouraging youth to change.”
Staff members, described as violence interrupters, are community members with trusted street credibility. Tim described them as individuals whose “nights matched their days. They can’t be someone who preaches anti-violence by day and be a gun toter at night. You can’t fake the funk.”
So far, the CV3 team has mediated 56 conflicts. In one instance, a team heard about a brewing conflict via an “inroad”—a resident who sensed something up between a 17-year-old and a 23-year-old. Both young men were intoxicated. One felt he had been disrespected in front of female friends. He was ready to pull out a gun when Tim arrived.
“I told them I was here with no fear,” Tim said, adding he told them: “You can pull that gun and shoot us both. But the thing I want you to realize is that there’s a camera on that pole recording everything. Does it make sense to gun down someone trying to help you?” They separated the two and started mediation.
In February, Chicago-based trainers from Cure Violence Global arrived in Des Moines for a two-week violence-interruption and management training. Jarmain Merritt, a Cure Violence trainer for four-plus years, said the Des Moines team rolled out “thinking like a management team. They surpassed all other communities in their pre-and post-tests.”
Jarmain checks in weekly and visits monthly. On July 15, he sat in a real-time intervention that erupted between two youths just beyond a street closure for a neighborhood street party. “The team did good work,” Jarmain remarked.
During a recent discussion over ice cream at Smokey Row, Tim and Ivette recalled the winter training as intense. “We did a lot of training about reflective listening,” Tim said. “Don’t offer opinions; slow down the conversation; be non-judgmental. Then, we played back what we just heard.”
Since that training, Tim and Ivette have recruited three team members to work in the zones with the highest probability of gun violence. The target area is bound by Hickman Road on the north, Second Avenue on the east, I-235 on the south, and 27th Street on the west.
Ivette described one of the challenges they face as rolling hot spots. “We have ‘cliques,’ not really organized gangs,” Ivette said, describing them as self-guided and very mobile. “We have 13-year-old shot-callers,” she added with a shake of her head. “Children are the targets of shooters. It’s easier for these kids to get a gun than it is to find a Wi-Fi hot spot.”
As part of the community outreach, the CV3 team created its own Detection, Respond, Intervene, and Prevent (DRIP) program:
Detection: Communication with inroads to identify troubles, gather details about shootings to prevent retaliations, and build trust and rapport.
Respond: Respond to a shooting within 72 hours. Did it happen because of a pre-existing beef? Is retaliation likely? Does anyone on the CV3 team have a relationship with the individuals?
Intervene: Distribute CV3 materials in all four zones, engage with businesses and agencies, and inform them on how they can get involved. CV3 also spends Thursday afternoons talking to Meyer Hall juveniles.
Prevent: Host events to increase community engagement, provide resources, and introduce at-risk individuals to new opportunities.
Going forward, Ivette and Tim would like to add an on-call hospital respondent, someone recognized and trusted by emergency room staff to work with families of shooting victims. Similar hospital violence interrupters have performed well in other Cure Violence communities.
3 DM VENDORS FEED A HUNGRY RAGBRAI CROWD
Suman Hoque, owner of HoQ Restaurant in the East Village, did a land-rush business on this year’s RAGBRAI, serving up breakfast wraps to the ravenous riders. In Rockford alone, riders queued up for 850 wraps served in just three hours.
Suman reported a 45 percent uptick in business over previous rides that included 16,200 hand-cracked eggs, and 900 pounds of house-made breakfast sausage.
Suman started preparing for this year’s ride in January, when he began freezing in-house naan bread. Suman assembled a support crew of seven for the ride, including his mother-in-law serving as RV driver and cashier.
In meeting towns, a crew of eight served up Say Cheese gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
This is the fourth RAGBRAI for Say Cheese, reported co-owner Jake Whipple. The hungry riders consumed 775 pounds of Graziano cheddar cheese from Graziano Brothers and 1,000 loaves of South Union bread.
The crowd favorite: bacon and cheddar cheese.
“It was a fantastic week,” Jake added, “but the logistics of keeping everything refrigerated is huge. We kept the lines moving fast."
RAGBRAI first-timers Palm’s Caribbean Cuisine https://www.facebook.com/PalmsDSM/ grilled its signature jerk chicken and jollof rice bowls—a West African dish—for a steady lunch crowd. The first 100 pounds of rice was gobbled up in three days, requiring a trip back to Des Moines for another 150 pounds.
“One guy from California came back every day and brought more of his friends,” Palm’s owner Amara Sama reported. “Another customer told us, ‘I didn’t know Iowans served this kind of food.’
“I told my team, ‘We are rookies and made the all-star team.’ ”
Say Cheese! and Palm’s Caribbean Cuisine operate from the Mickle Center Commercial Shared Use Kitchen in Sherman Hill.
BUSY SUMMER FOR PARKS & REC STAFF
Here are some numbers to share about summer activities in our City parks. * 42,564: Pools and aquatics centers attendance overall season, May–July (down from 59,708 in 2021 when all pools were staffed daily) * 3,494: Swimming lesson participants all season (up from 2,989 in 2021) * 523: pre-registered for Adult Recess, a new program at Captain Roy's (July 29 crowd of 600 estimated)
* 229: Registered youth football participants (up from 186 in 2021)
* 11,225: Number of plants (mums, pansies, chard, millet, dusty miller, red fountain grass) started in the City greenhouse for fall planting.
Union Park is currently available for the Adopt-A-Park Program. Parks and Recreation staff plan to expand its Adopt-a-Park/Adopt-a-Trail program in spring/summer 2023 with the hire of additional staff to support volunteers.
HUGE SUCCESS FOR PARKS & REC SUMMER CAMP
Des Moines Parks and Recreation offered free all-day camps to 200 children at Drake Park, Evelyn K. Davis Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and Weeks Middle School Park. It was the first offering of daily park activities since the 1980s.
Activities varied daily, from arts and crafts to nature-based programs, and from financial literacy to sports. Parks & Rec staff partnered with Central Iowa Shelter & Services (CISS), which provided lunch each day at no cost to campers for the two five-week sessions.
Campers took field trips to Blank Park Zoo, Des Moines Art Center, Principal Park for an Iowa Cubs game, Science Center of Iowa, Jester Park, City spraygrounds, and more. Campers also participated in free swim lessons at Teachout and Nahas aquatic centers. One of many highlights was the collaboration with the After School Arts Program (ASAP), which merged a weeklong arts camp into the City camp at the Evelyn K. Davis and Martin Luther King Jr. parks. Youths in the surrounding neighborhoods were invited to join, and ASAP and Parks served over 1,100 children in two weeks. Arts camp activities camp included dance, drumming, fiber arts, mixed media, painting, and sculpting.
“With first-year expansion unknowns and staffing challenges,” says Parks & Rec assistant director Jenny Richmond, “this was beyond a win.”
Amaree Neguissie—who, amazingly, resembled Santa at the Evelyn K. Davis Park “Christmas in July” celebration—was the lead recreation supervisor for the summer program.