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Bridget Bates of Largo loves her home, Prince George’s County. Still, she can see areas in need of change. While many people are focusing on New Year’s resolutions aimed at self-improvement, Bates turned outward this year to see what she can do --with the help of others-- to make Prince George’s County a better place which gets the credit it deserves.

With that in mind, Bates turned to the Internet for help. She created a Meetup group for others interested in making Prince George’s County better. is a web site that harnesses the social media power of the Internet to the real-world intimacy of local community gatherings. People launch Meetups to find others with a common interest, and plan offline meetings in their area. Bates’ group, Communities in Action, met for the first time Jan. 8 at the Wegman’s grocery store in Lanham, Md., to talk about concerns and brainstorm for ideas that might help improve the county--and it’s public relations issues.

“A friend of mine lives in Charles County and says, ‘I don’t know how they keep stuff out of the media, but they do. If these things happened in Prince George’s County, it would be all over the national news,’” Bates said. “I saw that homicide in Prince George’s County is down 37 percent, but it was just scrolling by at the bottom of the screen. If you noticed, you noticed. But if something bad happened, it would be all over the news.”

Bates hopes to use her group to focus on crime reduction, improving negative public perceptions of the county and business and economic development. For now, the organization is in its early stages, with members gathering information online and reaching out to public officials and others who are already working to improve Prince George’s County. The Meetups will serve as a place to talk about what members are doing and to coordinate information from outside the group so that everyone involved can benefit.

“We don’t need to compete with other groups or individuals who are already doing something. We don’t need to build things from scratch. We can contribute alongside them,” Bates said.

Some of those contributions will be in the form of encouraging Neighborhood Watch-style community policing efforts and other grassroots attempts to transform neighborhoods and the lives of citizens.

“You don’t have to be out there with a gun, but if you see something odd, call the police. That kind of thing,” said Bates, who also wants to work to bring more varied, vibrant businesses to the area, an effort she said won’t succeed until investors and developers hear more of the positive stories going on in Prince George’s County.

The group’s members each have their own ideas about what they want to learn as they work together.

“When I look at our taxes, the bulk of them is going to the school system, and it isn’t that great,” said Shannon Simpson of Largo. “How can Montgomery County charge less in taxes, but they’re getting more? What are we getting for our money?”

Simpson and Bates agree that picking manageable tasks, doing thorough research and working together will help them and other members of their Meetup group succeed at a project which Simpson described as “overwhelming,” when taken on as a whole.

Communities in Action meets 7 p.m. - 8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at Wegman’s, 9001 McHugh Drive, Lanham, Md. For more information, find them on