By Gina Valencia
Photo by Monique Kuhlman
It was the dead of night. The garage door was wide open, as was the door that led from the garage to the inside of the house. All lights were off, no one was around, except for two men who noticed all this from the street.
They pulled over, got out with flashlights, and peeked around.
They went to the front door and rang the doorbell.
They went around to the rear of the house and knocked on the bedroom window.
“We woke up the owners, who were obviously terrified,” Jerry Shultz said. “They forgot to close and lock the doors before going to bed. Their Ring doorbell batteries were dead.”
Jerry helped start the South of Conant Neighborhood Watch group in 2018, after his son’s catalytic converter and a neighbor’s antique car were stolen. He and a handful of dedicated volunteers daily patrol the neighborhood bordered by Woodruff Ave/Conant St/Clark Ave/Spring St. They’ve informed homeowners of opened vehicle doors, packages left on porches, and bicycles forgotten on the lawn. They’ve located missing persons, stolen property, even lost pets.
“Every night, we see something.”
Jerry’s dedication propelled Long Beach native Shawn Fitzpatrick, owner of University Trophies & Awards, to nominate Jerry as a Community Hero.
“What Jerry and his team have been doing with the neighborhood patrol…has stopped numerous crimes,” he said. “[They] patrol ALL hours of the day and night to keep our neighborhood safer.”
FROM LAW ENFORCMENT TO CRIME PREVENTION
Jerry, 76, has worn many hats in his lifetime: Army non-commissioned officer, Vietnam veteran, deputy sheriff, councilman, private investigator, and volunteer with numerous organizations. “When a volunteer is needed, I’m always raising my hand.”
This willingness to say ‘yes’ to opportunities has guided his life.
After enlisting in the Army in 1964, Jerry experienced much for a “poor country boy” from an unstable home in Pennsylvania, by traveling the world and learning a foreign language. “Travel opens your eyes.”
Jerry’s ‘core’ volunteer group includes retired first responders, an engineer, and a butcher. Jerry’s hope is to help people help themselves. “There’s a lot of preventable crimes we try to warn people about.”
A HEART FOR OTHERS
His erratic childhood, bouncing from one relative’s house to another, taught him empathy for those experiencing homelessness. An encounter with a homeless man sparked a conversation about gratitude.
“He was smiling and whistling as he and his little brown dog meandered across the asphalt.
The man had lost his job and his apartment, yet he was ‘thankful for his dog, his shopping cart, and the partially eaten sandwich he pulled from his pocket.’
“We [volunteers] carry a bin in our trucks with sleeping bags, toiletries, and restaurant gift cards. Not all homeless are thieves, and not all thieves are homeless.”
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
“The newer generation… needs to connect to their neighborhoods. If everyone volunteered just 8 hours a month, what a wonderful country we’d have!”
All are invited to their monthly Watch meetings held the first Thursday of the month at St. Luke’s Church at 7pm. Besides neighborhood updates, they have speakers on interesting topics, including beekeeping and photography.
After battling cancer, Jerry powers through with new goals. He aspires to write children’s books. And is working on a new venture with his team, “Without them, none of this would work.”
Project NICE (Neighborhood Improvement and Clean-up Effort) hopes to get more neighbors involved in beautifying their communities.
“A sign in my office reads, ‘It’s a wonderful life,’” Jerry said. “I’ve told my wife, after I pass, I want her to change it to say: It WAS a wonderful life.”