Getting to know your neighbors.
Getting to know the people and equipment of emergency services who keep us safe.
Letting criminals and would-be criminals know they will not have free-reign on our community’s streets.
(Oh yeah, and free pizza and lemonade.)
Those are the things National Night Out is about and the evidence was everywhere Tuesday night.
From Pottstown’s Chestnut Street Park, to a Knauertown church to the streets of Phoenixville, neighbors and firemen, church volunteers, housing advocates and police gathered toward mutual purpose.
“Events like this are very important, to build the community and for people in the neighborhoods to get to know one another,” said Pottstown Third Ward Councilwoman Sheryl Miller, who attended a National Night Out event at First Church of the Brethren at the corner of York and Fifth streets.
“When a community is close-knit and everybody knows each other, it encourages a safer community,” said Phoenixville Councilman Mike Kuznar, who attended a National Night Out event at Grace Crossings Community Church on the corner of Gay and Main streets.
“If you know your neighbors, you know when something’s wrong. Because our motto is if you see something, say something, and if you know your neighborhood and you know your neighbors, it’s a lot easier to do that,” Kuznar said.
“It’s a way to re-introduce ourselves to the community,” said Carolyn M. Dillon, who helped organize activities at Trinity Reformed Church at King and Hanover streets.
“All our members used to live here in town. I used to walk to church. We don’t all live in town anymore, but we’re still a neighborhood church and we wanted to invite our neighbors over,” Dillon said.
“It’s important for people in a particular neighborhood to get to know each other and to talk to each other and this provides a great way to make that happen,” said Judith Memberg.
The executive director of Genesis Housing, which works to rehabilitate housing for first-time homebuyers in Pottstown’s First Ward, Memberg said she was pleased her organization could help sponsor a National Night Out event in Chestnut Street Park in Pottstown, along with National Penn Bank and Victory Christian Life Center.
“This night is intended to pay tribute to all of our emergency services,” said John Detterline, vice president of St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Knauertown, which had visits from Twin Valley Fire Department, the Ridge Fire Department, Embreeville State Troopers, Ludwig’s Corner Fire Department, and Goodwill ambulances.
At one point in the evening, Ridge Fire Rescue demonstrated how they would rescue a person trapped inside a vehicle. Spectators got to witness the Jaws of Life in full force, as they swiftly removed doors, windshields, and the roof of the car.
Ginger Murphy, town Watch Coordinator in Phoenixville agreed, saying it was a good way for the kids in the community to meet local emergency services personnel in a positive way, as opposed to only dealing with them when the kids need help or are in trouble.
Children scrambled to get a chance to sit behind the wheel of a Phoenix Fire Company truck and sit in a dive and rescue unit boat. The Chester County Sheriff’s Department was also on hand in Phoenixville with a K-9 unit, a black German Shepherd named Leo, in addition to the Phoenixville Police Department.
In Pottstown, where a rash of violence plagued the First Ward neighborhood early in the summer, National Night Out has a special significance.
Stop the Violence organizer Kenya Edwards-Pena said she was excited to participate in the night’s event at Trinity Reformed Church because she found additional sponsors to host future marches. She said having different organizations host the march helps bring the community together and expand its purpose.
“I believe it encourages others to think outside the box,” Edwards-Pena said.
Trinity Church wasn’t the only organization involved in the night’s march. CeaseFirePa, a gun violence prevention organization also joined the local anti-violence efforts.
CeaseFirePa representatives said they decided to participate after seeing stories about the marches in the newspaper. The representatives said even though their organization is based in Philadelphia, they took notice of Pottstown efforts to make their community safer.
Being safe also includes fire safety, said Pottstown Fire Marshal William Smale.
Smale, and his dalmatian “Maverick” were on hand with a Goodwill Fire Company truck at the National Night Out event at First Methodist Church on High Street in Pottstown in order to familiarize children (and adults to) with how the equipment works.
“With the young kids who come, we want to teach them not to play with matches or cigarettes, because at a young age, they’re very curious about fire,” said Smale.
“We also want to help them get to know what a firefighter looks like in full equipment so they’re not scared of us if we’re trying to rescue them in a fire,” he said.
At Chestnut Street Park, free smoke detectors were being given away by Sharon McMichael and First Ward Councilman Ryan Procsal is among those volunteers who will install them for free as well.
Of course, there are other reasons to go to National Night Out.
Like the food.
Inside First Methodist Church, Pastor Will Hume was serving up some of his signature chili. Paired with Rita’s Water Ice, it formed the basis of the “Fire and Ice” theme that the church adopted for this year’s festivities.
Raised in Kentucky, Hume said “I make chili all the time, including Cincinnati chili, which is flavored with cocoa and cinnamon. It’s more savory than spicy, but I can make spicy too,” he said with a grin as his concoction bubbled away in the slow-cooker.
Nate Lang, 11, Larnell Towson, 12 and David Brown, 11, argued over whether they liked the chili or the water ice better.
Lang prefers cherry water ice, while Towson said he liked the chili best.
Brown had them all beat, sitting with a cup of chili and two cups of water ice, one of each flavor.
Tahj Phillips, 7, was eating her water ice so fast, she kept stopping because of “brain freeze.”
Most sites had music, whether it was the D.J. playing at Chestnut Street park, the live Praise band playing tunes in Phoenixville, or just the church bells tolling the time at Trinity.
The evenings rounded out with bounce houses, games and crafts for kids, information booths and even a chance, in the case of the First Church of the Brethren event, to shoot a fire hose.
“National Night Out is a great chance for people to come out and meet their neighbors and raise awareness of being safe in the neighborhood,” Murphy said. “But National Night Out is a national observance, which is exciting because you’re part of something bigger.”
According to the National Night Out website, the event began as an effort to promote involvement in crime prevention activities, police-community partnerships, neighborhood camaraderie and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
The first National Night Out took place on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 1984. That first year, 2.5 million Americans took part across 400 communities in 23 states.
National Night Out now involves over 37.8 million people and 16,124 communities from all fifty states, U.S. Territories, Canadian cities, and military bases worldwide.
21st Century Media Staff Writers Michilea Patterson, Stephen Harris and Matthew D’Ippolito contributed to this report.