Good night out
Published 10:05 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2012
By Tracy Agnew and Matthew A. Ward
Rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of more than 40 communities throughout Suffolk that celebrated National Night Out on Tuesday.
All across the city, neighbors braved thunderstorms and threatening clouds to spend time outdoors getting to know each other and presenting a united front against crime.
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“We want to let the Suffolk citizens know we are not going to stand for crime in this community,” said the Rev. Betty Montgomery of Greater First Baptist Church Orlando.
Folks in Orlando were huddled under tents as a thunderstorm bore down on the area, but the downpour soon turned to a drizzle and visitors enjoyed hot dogs, sausages, cheeseburgers and baked beans.
The event, organized nationwide by National Association of Town Watch, is held every first Tuesday in August. It is meant to help build partnerships between the community and law enforcement.
“National Night Out is a total team effort here in Suffolk,” Police Chief Thomas Bennett said during a kickoff event at the Suffolk Animal Care Facility. “Our people trust each other and depend on each other. We all need to work together to help keep this city a safe place.”
Tours of city officials, law enforcement and volunteer judges from Target, the national sponsor of National Night Out, left after the kickoff and visited each participating neighborhood before concluding the night at one of two finale locations.
In the South Suffolk/Pleasant Hill neighborhood, civic league president Lamont Strothers had organized a basketball clinic. Kids were playing basketball or on the playground while adults talked and ate food fresh from the grill.
“What we’re trying to do here is bring the community back together,” Strothers said. “We wanted to get the kids out there and get them active.”
In the Driver community, hundreds of residents from the village and surrounding locations turned out for the occasion, despite the grass being a little soggy underfoot.
The party included hot dogs, pony rides, a jumping castle, a slide, live music and cornhole.
“I’m excited about the turnout, for the weather and the conditions,” said event coordinator Ken Parsons of the Knot Hole Station store. “Any neighborhood that didn’t have an event we have invited here, and it’s a great night.”
Getting to know your neighbors is important, Parsons said, and there was a whole lot of it going on in Driver.
“Everybody has a name tag with their name and where they’re from,” he said. “Police officers are here getting to know folks.”
A major attraction was the Driver jailhouse, where prominent citizens were imprisoned to be released only on raising enough bond money, which went to charity.
“I came with some personal bail money,” Suffolk financial adviser Rob Estes said from behind bars. “I just hope the jail accepts personal checks.”
The Oakland and Chuckatuck Civic League, meanwhile, held a successful event at the Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Station.
Roosevelt Jones, manning the grill with Michael Breswell, said they were preparing enough food for 1,200 people.
“With the grill that we have, we can cook all we got to cook in about an hour and a half,” Jones added. “We got a speed grill back here.”
Opal McCleod, coordinator of the Chuckatuck event, said that over 200 sacks of school supplies were to be handed out.
“We’re all about the community,” she said. “Last year we had well over 700 people, and this year we’re expecting the same.”
City officials were to start arriving at the Chuckatuck event about 8 p.m. for the grand finale of their tours. Applewood Farms, a neighborhood off Godwin Boulevard, also was a finale location.
“We have homemade barbecue — that’s one of the reasons it’s so popular,” McCleod said.