Neighbors enjoy National Night Out


Families talk with GPD officers during the National Night Out party at Lincoln Park.

Brad McClenny/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 4:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 4:40 p.m.

When the Joint Aviation Unit, a law enforcement helicopter used by both the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and the Gainesville Police Department, landed at 5:30 p.m. last Tuesday at Lincoln Park in southeast Gainesville as part of National Night Out festivities, children at the event abruptly left a bounce house and other activities to line up for a chance to get an up close look at the helicopter.

After waiting for all of the propellers on the helicopter to completely stop spinning, and after receiving strict instructions from GPD Officer Ernest Graham not to touch the helicopter, more than a dozen children and adults walked around the helicopter.

As the helicopter attracted the attention from most of the kids at the event, others stood in line to get free backpacks from the Gainesville Target store employees, who volunteered at the event. Along with giving away more than 100 backpacks filled with school supplies, some of the more than 25 Target volunteers also painted faces.

"We come out to support the community every National Night Out," said Brian Jablonski, team leader at the Gainesville Target, adding that Target stores across the nation do likewise on National Night Out. "We give out backpacks with notebooks, paper and pencils every year, and this is just our way of giving back."

National Night Out, billed as "America's Night Out Against Crime," has been held nationwide the first Tuesday in August since 1984. This year in Gainesville, events celebrating National Night Out were also held at the park in the Cedar Grove II subdivision in northeast Gainesville and at Forest and Village Green Apartments on NE 15th Street.

Organizers of the event say it is a way to get residents and law enforcement and other first responders to interact with each other. That was surely the case at Lincoln Park, which for the past seven years has been home of an event cosponsored by nine neighborhoods and the Citizens Academy Alumni Association, which is comprised of graduates of a 10-week program administered by GPD that promotes citizen interaction with law enforcement agencies.

As a light rain faded away, Earther Wright, president of the association, directed law enforcement and other workers from local civil service agencies to get in the food line so they could be served first.

"You all might get an emergency call and we don't want you to say that you had to work hungry because of National Night Out," said Wright jokingly, as one Gainesville Fire Rescue firefighter said, "She is alright with me," while walking to get in the food line to be served his choice of fried fish, hamburgers and hot dogs, along with chips, cold drinks, popcorn and more.

Besides ASO, GPD and Target, other agencies participating included the Alachua County Health County Department, Alachua County Library District Bookmobile, Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office CDS Family & Behavioral Health Services Inc.and others.

Renetta Hambrick, a volunteer with the regional minority HIV/AIDS office at the health department, supervised a table where condoms, pamphlets and free HIV/AIDS tests were provided. Hambrick said she was thrilled to be a part of the event and even more happy that quite a few people actually got tested.

"We're giving away shirts if people are tested today and we are here to just educate the community today about HIV and AIDS and hope that people continue to get tested," said Hambrick, a student in the master's degree program in public health at the University of Florida. The test consisted of people having their mouths swabbed. The results will be available within a month.

Barbara Reed, a resident of the Lake Road neighborhood, one of the nine co-sponsors, said she always enjoys National Night Out festivities.

"I love to see the community come together and I love to see the residents come out and enjoy themselves, eat and have a good time," said Reed.

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