National Night Out event continues to grow

Published 9:47 pm Thursday, June 6, 2019

For the organizers of one of Suffolk’s largest National Night Out events, the growth of the event is a good problem to have.

For the first three years of the joint event, hosted by a number of surrounding neighborhoods, it was held at the Sentara Obici Hospital parking lot. When it outgrew that space, it moved to King’s Fork Middle School for another three years.

And now, with attendance that reached more than 4,000 people for last year’s shindig, it will move to a larger space across the street to King’s Fork High School when the event takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 6. The event is still free to attend.

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National Night Out is a “going away party for crime” sponsored nationally by the National Association of Town Watch. Dozens of communities and businesses across Suffolk hold events that feature activities, food, crime prevention information and more.

The event at King’s Fork, though, is one of the largest celebrations and often a “finale location” for the caravans of public safety officers and city officials who visit each location.

Cusi Hamlin, an organizer for the event, said Suffolk Police recommended the change for safety and crowd management reasons.

Hamlin said when the National Night Out at Obici event started, it had just three neighborhoods involved. It evolved, she said, with involvement from the city’s Director of Media and Community Relations Diana Klink, who put them together with the hospital, which was looking to do some local outreach on a bigger scale.

“When we did that, we had no idea how many people were going to come,” Hamlin said. “We had a check-in process so we’d know where they were coming from. We estimated we’d probably get about 500 people. We had about 1,200 people.”

From there, it kept growing to a point where it has made it difficult to quantify how many people were actually coming, and the hospital is still involved in the event.

“It’s so big that we can’t really count how many people are coming in,” Hamlin said. “But based on the parking and the amount of activity we had, we had around 4,000 people, which was a little bit more than the year before that.”

The move across the street will also facilitate parking, she said.

“We have a lot of parking,” Hamlin said. “The great thing is people don’t have to walk across the street. Everything is going to be a lot closer to them.”

At this year’s event, they plan to invite the marching bands from all three of the city’s public high schools — Lakeland, Nansemond River and King’s Fork. With their hopeful addition, Hamlin expects the attendance total to grow by at least another 500 people. She said she is also looking to have the Nansemond Indian Nation there, as well as possibly offering a self-defense class or training.

Organizers are also working with numerous nonprofits in Suffolk that they feel the community needs to know about, and a radio station will be there. But she expects the unexpected too.

“We (have) all these big surprises every year,” Hamlin said. “Literally, all the way up until the day of the event, we have people coming, (asking) ‘Can we be there?’”

A big surprise at last year’s event was the 7-Eleven Slurpee truck, which came prepared to serve 3,500 people, and then they ran out, Hamlin said. The event also ran out of food last year. Hamlin said they are also looking to have an ice truck on site, since all of the ice they had melted by 7:30 p.m.

Organizers held a meeting Thursday to work through logistical and event issues, and they are looking for volunteers and sponsors for this year’s event. Hamlin said she hopes to have a lot of local businesses to be sponsors, with levels starting at $250. She said they are hoping to raise between $4,000 to $5,000.

“We definitely need a lot of the community support,” Hamlin said. “Ideally, we’re looking for a lot of the local businesses that are in Suffolk to sponsor us.”

Suffolk Public Schools will also be represented and will present what’s new for the upcoming school year.

“It’s just really exciting to see the entire community coming together — the schools, the city, the local businesses, nonprofits, organizations, military, all getting together to put this on for our community.”