Dorothy Rush is tired of dodging bullets in her gang-infested neighborhood. She is fed up with the blight on her street and a nearby street, and she hates hiding in her home at night, afraid to take a walk around the block or sit on her front porch.
Yet she refuses to move out of the house she has lived in for 29 years, and she has vowed to keep up her crusade against gang violence, graffiti and unfair housing practices in the Grace/Pacific neighborhood.
“What I want to do is get this neighborhood cleaned up and make it a decent place to live,” said Rush, 59.
Last year, the grandmother activated a Neighborhood Watch group in an effort to help police catch criminals by calling authorities when they hear gunshots or witness murders or other crimes. Rush also founded WAVE (for We’re Against Violence Everywhere), a nonprofit organization that teaches people how to cope with gangs and provides tutoring in needy neighborhoods.
Recently, Rush formed the Grace/Pacific Community Assn., a group of residents who fight against blight and unhealthy living conditions on Grace and Pacific avenues by informing authorities of code violations.
For her work, Rush was commended by the City Council last week. Thursday she will be named the state’s Crime Prevention Volunteer of the Year.
Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren will present the award, sponsored by the California Stop Crime Coalition and the California Crime Prevention Officers Assn., at the annual Conference for Crime Prevention Officers in San Diego, officials said.
Rush “is a mainstay,” La Habra Police Chief Steven Staveley said. “What Dorothy’s proving is that a single individual who’s committed to making a positive change in one neighborhood can improve life in the whole community. She is a model whom others can emulate.”
Rush, however, said she just wants to live peacefully. To reach that goal, the retired dressmaker said she holds meetings in her Grace Avenue home, where she lives with her husband, Larry.
This week, she managed to get a group of Pacific Avenue tenants and their landlord to agree on a plan to get rid of rats and fix the plumbing and electrical problems in their home.
“That’s just one house,” Rush said. “There are dozens more that are sickening. All I’m asking is that people clean up. I don’t like the dirt, the filth and the crime in this neighborhood.”
Some landlords, who refuse to bring their homes up to city codes and have been cited several times, have told Rush to move out.
What’s more, the neighborhood’s gang members have threatened to kill her for meddling.
“I’m scared to death sometimes,” Rush said. “But, why the heck should I move out and let them take over?”
When Rush held her first Neighborhood Watch meeting in April, 1992, she recalled, gang members shot at and spray-painted her husband’s Nissan truck. At every meeting she has held since then, something else happens, she said.
Her home has been shot at. It has been hit by thrown eggs and half-full beer cans. Her fence has been broken, and graffiti shows up on her driveway.
But Rush said these things won’t stop her from trying to make her neighborhood a safe place to live.
“We have drive-by drills where we all hit the ground when we hear gunshots at least once a week,” Rush said. “I hate that and I want to help stop it.”
La Habra’s Crime Prevention Officer Teri Chavez said the community and the Police Department admire Rush’s determination.
“She’s not intimidated to make and sign a complaint,” Chavez said. “She’s sending a message that she’s going to be there forever and any criminal activity better be taken elsewhere.”