Night Out celebrated
Published 10:56 pm Tuesday, August 5, 2014
By Matthew A. Ward, Henry Luzzatto and Tracy Agnew
Thousands of people across Suffolk came together in their communities on Tuesday evening for the 2014 edition of National Night Out.
The national event with a community focus saw celebrations ranging from a few people sitting outside together to celebrations like at Sentara Obici Hospital, which drew thousands from several neighborhoods surrounding the hospital.
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Coinciding with the event’s theme of “Happy to Be Crime and Drug Free,” Pharrell Williams’ ubiquitous song “Happy” was heard at many of the celebrations. And, according to city officials, there’s plenty to be happy about.
“We couldn’t have asked for better weather,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said at the National Night Out kick-off celebration at the Suffolk Visitor Center Pavilion, as a cloudy day had cleared and become sunny and not too hot.
If that weren’t good enough, Police Chief Thomas Bennett shared year-to-date crime statistics at the kick-off — homicides down 100 percent, robberies down 21 percent and burglaries down 30 percent from last year.
He hopes the trend will continue but said he needs the community’s help.
“Your police department cannot be successful if we don’t have your trust and your support,” he said.
Building trust and support between law enforcement and the community — and presenting a united front against crime — is the purpose of National Night Out, and the community did it in a big way.
“It’s been above and beyond my expectations,” Brenda Taylor of South Suffolk/Pleasant Hill Civic League, which partnered with Hall Place and Saratoga/Philadelphia to do a combined event. “Other communities have done this with great success, so we wanted to do this as well. We just got together and decided we would do it.”
Pam Saunders, who grew up in Saratoga, agreed it was a good idea.
“It’s so good to see three communities coming together,” she said.
In the Lakeside/West End neighborhood, civic league president Jim Strickland said he was surprised at the turnout.
“Everybody’s having a good time today,” he said.
The league gave away school supplies and had prizes for a poster contest and basketball shooting contest. It also unveiled the signs for its Neighborhood Watch program.
In Kingsboro, the newly reconstituted Kingsboro Civic League had a party at the neighborhood park.
“When I was a kid, we all knew each other, and we seemed to have got away from that in recent years,” said James Blair, president of the civic league.
Jeff and Jolene Biberson happened upon the party when they took their 1-year-old daughter Lina to the park. They have lived in Kingsboro about three months.
“It was unexpected,” Jolene Biberson said. ‘It’s a very welcoming sense of community.”
Businesses got in on the action, too. A group of downtown businesses had a party at a vacant lot on East Washington Street.
Sylvester Riggs and his sister, Esther Mason, own the Style Shop barbershop and organized the National Night Out.
“It’s to fight crime and bring out the community,” Mason said on why National Night Out is so important.
Archie Boone, master of ceremonies for the event and a Farmers Insurance agent, said the businesses “want to be part of the family.”
“Most businesses don’t want to just take money,” he said. “We want to create that sense of community with the businesses.”
In North Suffolk the mood was upbeat, neighbors gathering at community celebrations to cement friendships and start on new ones, all in the name of cohesion.
At Burbage Grant Clubhouse, folks turned to flag-bearing Boy Scouts to sing the National Anthem. They enjoyed food fresh off the grill, and inflatables and face-painting among the games and activities.
Scott Gurley, there with wife Beth and sons Weston, 2, and Mason, 5, said he heard the event was geared toward children and decided to bring his family.
“We thought we’d bring them here,” Gurley said after handing his boys balloons.
The event was a great way to bring neighbors together “and learn about what’s important in our community, and learn about safety — things that are important to families,” said Melissa Grossman, whose 9-year-old daughter Isabella was sitting for a sketch-portrait. Older sister Abigail, 11, was waiting for her turn.
Steve Whear, president of the homeowners association, paid tribute to Burbage Grant Neighborhood Watch coordinator Tom Bennett’s organizational skills.
“He (also) put together a pretty good group of volunteers to come out and support the activities,” Whear said, adding that National Night Out is a positive pretext for people to come together.
“If they are involved in good activities for the community, they won’t be involved in not-so-good activities.”
Harbour Breeze residents gathered to celebrate on a sealed-off street, right out in front of homes. Children sat in a city fire truck, hula-hooped, rode their bikes and launched themselves wall-to-wall inside a bounce house. Adults were overheard introducing themselves to neighbors they’d seen often but never actually met.
Melissa Posilero said she wanted to show her 15-month-old son Mason that it’s safe “to come out in our neighborhood.”
Vice president of the homeowners association, Mike Boyle, said most folks in Harbour Breeze have come from places where they knew their neighbors. “Pretty often nowadays, you don’t know your neighbors,” he added. “So we try to get that neighborliness back.”
At Belmont Park, it was a party. A DJ kept music pumping and, with everything from martial arts demonstrations, coloring station, Frisbee, sidewalk chalk art and wagon rides, neighborhood children were spoilt for choice.
Not only was it the neighborhood’s first National Night Out celebration, it was its first community celebration of any kind, said Shawn Felts, president of the homeowners association.
“It’s really big for us, and we’re really excited,” she said.
“We want to curtail crime in our neighborhood. We have a low crime rate, and we want to keep that. It’s better to meet on good terms rather than bad terms.”
The Suffolk National Night Out celebrations even stretched all the way to Catonsville, Md., where Boy Scout Troop 30 was on a camping trip and away from Suffolk on National Night Out for the first time in seven years. They celebrated anyway, Scout Master Robert Lewis said.
“We had great food, wonderful fellowship and lots of fun with games,” he wrote in an email.