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National Night Out connects families with first responders

SALISBURY — “Who wants a prize?” yelled Virginia Brown as a group of children huddled around her to receive a “gift” in the Park Avenue neighborhood during Tuesday’s National Night Out observance.

Every 15 minutes, prizes were doled out to a child at Cannon Park. The children walked away with soccer balls, frisbees and other toys.

Nationwide, communities gathered Tuesday for fun and fellowship and to meet their neighbors, local law enforcement officers, firefighters and other emergency responders. The initiative began in 1984 when neighbors turned on their porch lights and sat outdoors.

Throughout many Salisbury neighborhoods, there were block parties, ice cream parties and giveaways designed to connect with neighbors.

Tasha Kirkland brought her children to Cannon Park saying she enjoyed being able to watch them play.

“It’s good to come out to have fun with the kids. It’s a fun environment,” said Kirkland, a Salisbury native.

“I enjoy watching them,” she said.

Francine Garnett said she was watching her neighbor’s grandchildren and decided they should go to the park so they could “burn off some energy.” She didn’t know there was an observance.

“This is very nice. This is great so the kids can have some nice, clean fun,” Garnett said.

The Brooklyn, New York, native moved to Salisbury two months ago and said she wished there were events like this when she was young. Her daughter is a police officer in Manhattan, New York.

Events like National Night Out are designed to build police and community relations, said Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes.

Stokes said it’s also a way to help reduce crime as a show of solidarity and working together. Stokes said it fits with the Police Department’s adage: Every officer has a neighborhood and every neighborhood has an officer.

“This event recognizes it and reinforces it,” he said.

Also Tuesday, the Police Department rolled out its Neighborhood Officer Map. The interactive map allows residents to search their address and see the officer responsible for their neighborhood.

Residents can email the officers to detail problems or offer words of encouragement. Accessing the map is free and only requires to user to visit the website, type in an address, and view the officers and supervisors who cover that particular neighborhood.

Salisbury police officers on Tuesday were on hand to hang out with neighborhood children. Officers could be seen dancing to the Electric Slide, Biker Shuffle and other popular line dances while music roared through the neighborhood.

Many of the children had fun driving the Police Department’s golf cart through an obstacle course as Officer Shaneesha Smith sat in the passenger seat with her foot close to the brake.

Salisbury firefighter Garrett Henson played basketball with a group of boys.

“It’s kinda cool to see the community come together and hang out. It builds a good bond. It’s a really good idea,” Henson said.

Best friends Marley Jackson and Paris Partlow, both 10, attended the festivities at Cannon Park.

“I think it’s fun that they do this every year for the community to come together,” Jackson said.

The Salisbury neighborhood has been hosting its National Night Out observance for about four years. Throughout the year, the neighborhood has a Fall Festival and Christmas gathering that includes a visit from Santa and presents for the children.

The neighborhood board of directors plans events throughout the year and applies for community grants to provide presents and gifts for the children, said Secretary Virginia Brown and President Lou Manning.

“It’s important; a good way to get them used to mixing with each other. It gets them out to play with each other,” Manning said.

It’s a way for the children to play and the parents to get to know each other, which he said makes for a more cohesive neighborhood.

Brown said the neighborhood always tries to do something that reaches out to youths.

For more information, visit www.salisburync.gov/officermap to view the Neighborhood Officer Map.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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