Meet Your Neighbor: Debbie Probasco

Working hard for a better Lancaster on the South End

Remember the Richard Scarry “Busytown” books? When I think of Kids & Cops Day, “Busytown” comes to mind, with Debbie Probasco as the Mayor.

This year, Kids & Cops Day is on Saturday May 20th at the Ohio University Lancaster (OUL) parking lot. Sponsored by the Lancaster Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association, this event features fire trucks, police cruisers, a dump truck, an excavator, helicopters, and more. Columbo Law gives out bike helmets, and there will be free t-shirts and hot dogs.
While the event is called Kids & Cops Day, “kids” is loosely defined. Not only will there be something for everyone under 18, adults get just as much out of seeing all of the vehicles and equipment. A Dunk Tank is a big hit, with police officers and school principals as dunkees.

Debbie said it all started 7 years ago when she was the President of the Alumni Association and the Lancaster Police Chief asked her to start a Kids & Cops Day similar to those in other communities. The first thing she needed was a location. “I asked Lisa Taylor (at OUL), and she said yes,” Debbie recalls. The first year brought in around 1,000 people. This year, attendance is expected to be over 2,000 from across the county.

Kids & Cops Day is an all-volunteer event, just one of the many initiatives of the Alumni Association. Others include providing security for the July 4th event at the Fairgrounds and at the Lancaster Festival, the “Shop with a Cop” event in December, and raising money for the Lancaster Police Department for needs outside of what their regular budget will provide.

Debbie’s participation with the Citizen Police Academy started with her leadership of a Block Watch in her South End neighborhood in 2008. “Deb Beavers (who is recently deceased) lived up the street, and she said we need to start a Block Watch.” So Debbie and Deb went door to door with flyers to gain support and held a meeting at a local church.

“We had a good turnout for the first meeting, so we kept going,” Debbie said. Soon, she had Tony Salvatori, former Executive Director of Maywood Mission involved, and they held annual neighborhood parties with games and a cook-out.

“We had around ten to fifteen people walking the neighborhood and picking up trash,” Debbie said. In 2009, she participated in the Lancaster Citizen Police Academy and brought more police presence into the neighborhood to shut down drug houses and report suspicious activity. The Block Watch also got the attention of the City’s Code Enforcement Department to identify empty houses and get them cleaned up.

Debbie Probasco with her Caring Citizen Award from the City of Lancaster

Back row – Scott Miller (pastor of the Church of Good Hope in the South End neighborhood), Mike Sark, Lynda Berge Disser, Dennis Disser; Front Row – Holly Miller-Downour (previous Ward 5 City Council Member), Debbie Probasco

Now, when a neighbor lets their grass grow too long or burns trash (which is illegal in the city), Debbie and her neighbors are quick to call it in. Many of her neighbors are elderly and not on social media, so Debbie becomes their contact with the community and City resources.

Born and raised in Lancaster, Debbie and her partner Mike Sark bought their current house in 2010, renovated it, and have lived there since 2014. She received the City’s Caring Citizen Award in 2020 and serves on the Community Development Department’s Advisory Committee. In 2021, Debbie and Bev Cook started the South End Community Garden which, while it was not planted for 2023, provided an abundance of vegetables for neighbors for two years.

The South End neighborhood is South of Lincoln Avenue, near Talmadge Elementary School, and the area east of South Broad, south of the Memorial Drive overpass. If you want to get involved in the Block Watch and other neighborhood efforts, contact the City’s Community Development Department at (740) 687-6667 and we’ll get you in touch with Debbie. You can also find her on Facebook or through the Lancaster Police Department.

Also, wherever you live in Lancaster, check out ways to Get Involved.  We can help you Organize a Block Watch, plan a Community Clean-Up, or Host a Block Party.

Filed under: Community, Life, Meet Your Neighbors, News, People
Lynda Berge Disser

By Lynda Berge Disser

Lynda Berge Disser started her community development career in 1991 as director of a non-profit housing organization in an historic neighborhood. She has led training workshops for community-driven housing and commercial development across the country and has written grants that have brought in over $100 million for community development. Lynda currently serves as Director of the City of Lancaster's Community Development Department.