By Reggie Ellis
At its Aug. 23 meeting the Exeter City Council approved a request from Russell Watts to close a portion of North Quince Avenue near Willow Street for a block party.
Watts is no stranger to organizing large-scale parties. The then 19-year-old made the front page of The Exeter Sun on Nov. 9, 1988 after being arrested for selling alcohol to minors at a huge party he organized in the home of former Exeter-Farmersville Municipal Justice Curtis Spott's rural home while he was out of town. Tulare County Sheriff's deputies broke up the party and found seven kegs of beer stacked in the kitchen. The party was so out of control that a Woodlake man was stabbed outside in a nearby plum orchard and two Exeter men were arrested. Deputies reported it taking more than an hour to get the 400-500 party goers to leave.
"My life was all about self-indulgence," said Watts, who grew up in a rural area northwest of Exeter. "I was throwing parties all the time."
The party was the peak of Watts' path to destruction that cost him his first marriage and nearly ended with suicide. Now a father of four, Watts, 36, has settled into a modest home in the 400 block of North Quince Avenue where he will hold a block party from 3-10 p.m. on Sept. 3. But instead of serving alcohol to minors, Watts will be serving the Lord and preaching to neighborhood children about the dangers of drug and alcohol.
"I want to share my testimony of the affects that drugs and alcohol can have on your life," he said. "Others will also share their stories of struggles and redemption. I hope that this can be a real positive communication for both the kids and their parents."
The stories the neighborhood children tell are vivid and scary. People routinely walk the streets intoxicated. Home invasions and theft are rampant and just a few nights ago there was a high speed pursuit down the street. Watts said the block party would provide a faith-based message about why kids should stay away from the drugs and alcohol that may surround them in their community and even their own homes. There will be local Christian rock bands playing live music, bounce houses, food and beverages.
"These are issues that parents should talk to their children about. I hope parents from this area will come with their children," said Watts, who has already had many conversations with his own children. "We have to prepare them to deal with these issues."
Watts found religion during his recovery from excessive alcohol and marijuana use and even studied to be a youth pastor at a Bible college. He has helped organize several Christian outreach-for-youth programs and is planning to bring a message of faith and hope to the neighborhood he now calls home.
"I have noticed a lot of character issues, such as a lack of honesty and community service and pride," Watts said. "There is a lot of taking and not enough giving in this area."
Watts now spends his afternoon watching his children play in the front yard after school. It is one of the few places the children say they can escape the drugs, alcohol and crime that plague their neighborhood, at least for a few hours each day.
"There is a lot of abuse and neglect in this neighborhood," Watts said. "I keep a very close eye on my own kids. But I feel God has brought us here for a purpose, so we have that protection too."
Watts still feels the effects of his alcohol and drug abuse. The long-term effects of marijuana have affected his second marriage and have left his finances in ruin. He is working on getting his teaching credential while working part-time as an artist and furniture mover. While life isn't easy, Watts said all that just gives him a definite purpose, to educate children on the dangers of drugs and the healing power of faith.
"I have finally come to a place where God is ready to move through me," Watts said. "I think I ended up in this neighborhood for a reason."