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An Indianapolis Church Cuts Crime With Weed Wackers

Call it the gospel of lawn care. The Shepherd Community Church of the Nazarene in Indianapolis is the proud owner of a fleet of ride-on industrial lawn mowers and big, powerful weed-wackers.

The church's adventures in lawn-mowing began three years ago when the city admitted it couldn't control the weeds - or worse, the crime, drug sales, and prostitution choking many parks in rundown neighborhoods.

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Officials asked several churches to pitch in - and offered a total of $60,000 in maintenance fees as incentive.

Now signs posted in the parks give the name and phone number of the church and pastor responsible for upkeep.

Church members or employees pick up trash, weed, and water three times a week. They also keep a close eye on who's using the parks. Crime has dropped and usage has jumped.

"It's a whole different story when somebody from the neighborhood is saying, "Don't throw that piece of trash on the ground," says the Rev. Jay Height, pastor of Shepherd, which watches over two parks.

The arrangement has helped restore the city's parks, but it's also symbolic of government ceding ground to churches and other nonprofits, which can often perform services better and more efficiently.

And for Shepherd, there's an added bonus. A local bank noticed the fine job the church crew was doing with the two parks and offered a maintenance contract for its 13 branches.

The church now employs five to six full-time workers - recruited from its homeless shelter or from among neighborhood youths - to do lawn care.

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Mr. Height says he's not much of a businessman, but the venture helps the church's mission.

"I was a liberal-arts major," he says, "I can't count." But he does know the $2,000 in profit the church makes each year from the business helps fund its homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

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