Tim Pettus, the president of First Farmers & Merchants Bank in Columbia, Tenn., is a lifelong banker and rancher.

But crime-stopper is a new title for him.

"If you take care of the community, the community will take care of you," says Pettus, after finding out the bank's contributions to a local nonprofit helped reduce crime in eastern Columbia by nearly half.

Three years ago the bank committed $30,000 annually to a nonprofit now called People Helping People Together, which rehabilitates homes in a crime-ridden neighborhood in the area. First Farmers has continued to provide donations and volunteers each year. The nonprofit this month celebrated its 25th remodeled home.

Crime has dropped 47% within that district since 2008 when the nonprofit was formed, the Columbia Police Department says.

"It was a pretty big challenge," says Pettus, recalling the first time he walked through the neighborhood with police. He learned that sneakers hanging over a power line signaled drugs were sold in the area.

"It was about as bad as you can get. … A lot of the older folks were scared to sit on the porch. They were absolutely scared to go out of the house," he says. "If they see a crime happening, they will call now to report it. There's a new pride of ownership in that community."

People Helping People Together and First Farmers recently announced two other banks had joined the cause. Heritage Bank & Trust and Community First Bank & Trust together committed $5,500 to the nonprofit. The amount was then tripled by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency's Housing Trust Fund. The fund is administered by the South Central Tennessee Development District.

That three competing banks joined forces created "quite a stir," Pettus says.

"We compete every day hard but when it gets down to it, it's a really, really good thing to do this in Columbia," he says.

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