Know your neighbor

Published 7:39 pm Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Having joined the Suffolk News-Herald’s newsroom in November, I’m still enjoying a lot of Suffolk firsts.

I’ve had my first experiences eating North Carolina barbecue, drinking homemade sweet tea buying produce from a roadside stand, attending the Rockin’ Relay for Life, watching the 4th of July parade in Eclipse and getting terribly, hopelessly lost, which I will admit still happens from time to time.

Still on my list are the upcoming Shrimp Feast, an oyster roast and a crab picking — which I just learned about and added to my list yesterday.

Email newsletter signup

Tuesday night, however, I was able to scratch off an annual Suffolk event when I attended my first National Night Out.

Tracy Agnew and I split the coverage. She covered downtown and South Suffolk, and I took my camera and yellow notebook up north to get pictures and quotes for her story.

Between the two of us, we covered 10 community parties.

I know I saw only a sampling of the extensive effort, but at each of the events I attended I was astonished by the number of the people drawn out on a Tuesday evening.

Surely, people are attracted by free activities and food, but many of the folks I talked to emphasized the reasons they were there went beyond hot dogs and bounce houses.

It wasn’t because they were under the delusion that one night of organized parties would somehow stop crime.

Their presence was symbolic of their support for the fight against crime, and they were there to build relationships with their neighbors, which they saw as essential to stopping crime in neighborhoods.

I can testify to the need for those relationships.

I grew up in a fast-growing city of 90,000 that had a strong agricultural base. We knew all of our neighbors on both sides of the street, and we never locked the door when we left the house.

For the past year, however, I’ve been living in apartments where I never leave the door unlocked and still haven’t seen — much less spoken to — many of the other tenants in my building. We could hardly call each other neighbors.

We live in a nice neighborhood and complex, but just the other day someone put up posters for stolen ATVs, and my husband and I were the victims of a break-in earlier this year.

Those community relationships, like the ones being fostered Tuesday evening, isn’t just an old-fashioned value. They are essential to making communities safer.

In a city growing as rapidly as Suffolk, it can be a challenge to get to know your neighbors and keep up with the ebb and flow of traffic.

It is certainly not a task that should be permitted to fall to the wayside, and from what I saw last night, people from all over the community couldn’t agree more.