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Staff photos by EMILY BARNESKasey Jennings,left, 16, and Caitlyn Lowell, 16, compete in the bungee race at the National Night Out celebration at the Bannister Neighborhood Association in Waldorf on Tuesday.
From small circles of friends at barbecues to monster pool parties, Tuesday's National Night Out got county residents celebrating with each other and with those patrolling their streets.
The event observed annually by communities nationwide aims at getting neighborhoods to band together against crime. It's a big deal in Charles County, where the National Night Out celebration has won awards for more than a decade.
Sheriff Rex W. Coffey and several county commissioners started things off at the Moose Lodge in White Plains before heading out into the community.
"Let's get out there and have some fun and do our thing," Coffey said at the send-off.
Coffey said that too often, residents only interact with the police when something bad happens. National Night Out gives officers an opportunity to have some fun in the community as well as to find out how Charles countians feel about their neighborhoods.
"I ask how everything is going and ask if they're having any problems. But mostly, it's just about camaraderie and getting to see everyone," said Coffey (D).
On his route through the county, Coffey dropped by Pomfret Estates at a gathering renowned for its cooking and neighborly atmosphere.
"There's a lot to learn here. They have so little crime 'cause everyone knows their neighbors," Coffey said.
Francis Thomas, a 35-year resident of Pomfret Estates, said it's been that way ever since he moved into the neighborhood.
"Even when you think [your neighbors] aren't looking, they're looking," he said with a laugh.
Many residents of the neighborhood have, like Thomas, lived there for years, but he said there is also a fair amount of newcomers.
National Night Out gives the seasoned residents of Pomfret Estates a chance to meet their younger neighbors, said Cathy Dodson, who has also lived in the development for 35 years.
"We're so very proud of our community," she said. "It's almost like a family reunion to live here."
In many other neighborhoods, it is a little harder to stay connected, according to Connie Gray, the community organizer for the Charles County Sheriff's Office. That's where National Night Out comes in, she said.
Nearly 375 people attended the celebration at the Indian Head Village Green Pavilion on Tuesday night.
The entirely free event featured outdoor inflatables, five indoor carnival games and a bicycle parade for the kids. The morale, welfare and recreation unit at Naval Support Facility Indian Head provided the inflatable slide and moon bounce.
Years ago the town used to give away bicycles at National Night Out, said Community Affairs Director Karen Lindquist-Williams. The town would give away one to a boy and girl in each designated age group.
Although the town did not collect enough donations to provide the bikes this year, "we want to do that again next year," she said.
To promote bicycle safety, the town decided to start a new National Night Out tradition — the bicycle parade, said Mary Hashagan, a member of the town's community activities committee.
Sue Tice and Ruth Culver from Up the Creek Rentals decorated the mayor and council's bicycles. Bob Zimmerman and Sarah and Lisa Tice also helped.
The mayor's bike was decorated as a pirate ship, while Vice Mayor Dennis Scheessele dressed as a clown with streamers hanging from his bicycle and Town Manager Ryan Hicks was a good sport in the August heat and dressed in a bulky snowman costume. During the parade, Mike Jones, part owner of Up the Creek , pulled council member Margie Posey around the Village Green Pavilion in a kayak mounted on a platform.
When a reporter asked Brynn Williams, 5, which character was her favorite in the bicycle parade, she responded "the clown" — Scheessele — because he had rainbow hair.
Brynn and her younger brother, Blake, rode their scooters in the parade.
"We hope the bicycle parade will get bigger each year," Williams said.
Gloria Thompson, a town resident of 17 years, attended National Night Out for the first time Tuesday. "It's nice to get out and meet different people," she said.
Thompson had three generations of her family present. The kids enjoyed running around and playing in the moon bounce, she said.
Besides the inflatables and carnival games, children enjoyed meeting McGruff the Crime Dog in his typical trench coat attire and Sparky, the Dalmatian from the Indian Head Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad.
Other special guests included Coffey and commissioners' Vice President Edith J. Patterson (D).
Local businesses and groups also came out to show support. Participants included Priority Partners, Indian Head Soccer Association, Heart n' Soul Ministry, Indian Head VFDRS, Indian Head Black Box Theatre, Indian Head Braves Football and Cheerleading, PNC Bank's Indian Head branch and Community Bank of Tri-County's Bryans Road branch.
"We are here No. 1 because we are from Indian Head," said Thomas Butler who's been with the Indian Head Braves since 1968.
"It [National Night Out] is a good event to help keep the kids off the street. And, it's not like they are bored. There's plenty to do and it's free. We've picked up about 20 to 30 kids here tonight."
Jane Plemons of PNC Bank said "it's good for residents to get to know the area police officers" in a social environment rather than an emergency.
This is the town's 13th year hosting the event. "The neighborhood crime watch started in 1996," Williams said.
Next year "we want to expand National Night Out and make it bigger with more activities for the kids and community support," she said.
National Night Out is one of the town's biggest events, next to the Fourth of July and Halloween trunk-to-trunk trick or treating, Williams said.
Scores of Lancaster residents flocked to the neighborhood clubhouse and pool for National Night Out. The gathering featured a DJ, food and sketch artists who drew portraits for the kids.
Tuesday was the first National Night Out for Lisa Gray, who has lived in Lancaster for two years.
By and large, she said she feels safe in the neighborhood …. now that she has an alarm system.
Just after Gray moved into the neighborhood, someone broke into her home, she said. Sheriff's officers investigating the crime were very helpful and even gave her tips for securing her house. That's when she bought the alarm system for her residence.
Gray said that it's good to see officers and other emergency personnel in the neighborhood during National Night Out.
"It shows that they have a relationship with the community," she said.
Cpl. Kevin Wilson, a school resource officer stationed at John Hanson Middle School, said he loves visiting with Charles County dwellers.
"I'm a people person, so I like to go hang out," he said, adding that he hoped to see some of the students in the school he is assigned to.
The Waldorf neighborhood of Bannister organized a celebration complete with a miniature carousel at its recreation center.
Watching her children from the poolside, Contina Cooper said that her family loves National Night Out and has been participating for the past five years.
"I think it's good, but I think [the police] should come out here more often," she said.
The many bike paths in the area are a concern for her, especially since her teenage son was robbed several years ago while walking through the neighborhood.
"I don't want him out here walking anymore," she said.
While fellow Bannister resident Traci Parham said she didn't really have any concerns about the area, she agreed with Cooper that National Night Out is fun for the family.
"They do a good job of putting things together," she said.
The Nanjemoy Community Center played host to hundreds of guests Tuesday night. With help from such organizations as the Western Charles County Community Association, Nanjemoy Volunteer Fire Department and Ladies Auxiliary, Maryland Point Baptist Church and the sheriff's office, families were able to relax and have a good time.
As an added bonus, children got to hang out with McGruff and Sparky.
Festivities included a live DJ, puppet show, dinner provided by Maryland Point Baptist Church, Rita's treats, face painting and other children's activities, and door prizes.
The Western Charles County Community Association handed out 120 bags of school supplies for children.
"It's working out wonderfully," said the Rev. Lowell H. Hancock, president of the association.
Jaime Sweeney, 6, said she liked coming to the community center in Nanjemoy and could not pick just one thing from Tuesday night's festivities to call the best.
The Quailwood neighborhood of La Plata had just as much excitement, only on a smaller scale.
President of the homeowners association, Rochelle Ricks-Adams and her husband, Dewayne Adams, hosted a Night Out party in the cul-de-sac outside their home.
Ricks-Adams said the party is usually held out on the parkway in the Quailwood community, but this year she said members of the HOA wanted to change things.
She had a moon bounce set up for children in her front yard, water balloons, bubbles and other games to play, and Adams cooked food on a grill for neighbors.
Quailwood resident Mandy Lindsey moved to the community in June and said the event was a great chance to come out and meet her neighbors.
Nearby at Kings Grant, residents and members of the La Plata Volunteer Fire Department turned out for a dessert social.
"[National Night Out] brings the community together to show support for officers who risk their lives every night for us," said Linda Maynard, a Kings Grant resident.
George, 14, and Sean Rada, 11, said National Night Out is a great time to come out see the neighbors and play outside.
"Pretty much just hang out," Sean said.
"It's like being on vacation," Griffin Fitzpatrick, 4, another resident of Kings Grant said.
Meanwhile, over at Sheffield, residents were celebrating with a moon bounce and a climbing wall.
Nicole Wade, 9, was one of the brave climbers.
"It's pretty high, but it was fun. Once I climbed, it was kind of scary," Nicole said.
But with big parties come big cleanups.
After the slides are deflated and the ice cream trucks are driven away from the Hampshire celebration, Steve Blauvelt said that he's the man who switches off the lights.
"Cleanup takes the most time. Last year, I didn't get out till 1:30 [a.m.]," said Blauvelt, a member of the neighborhood association and its main National Night Out planner.
He will barely have time to catch his breath until next month, when the Hampshire Neighborhood Association will start organizing for next year's event.
"It starts in September, and we go from there," he said.
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