Leaving the porch light on and talking to a neighbor is all it takes.
From there neighborly bonds are formed, friends are made and the area’s neighborhoods get safer because everyone knows and looks out for one another.
That was the point for thousands of Jeffersonville residents that took part in National Night Out Tuesday evening, in an effort to build stronger communities and prevent crime.
While the event takes place in all 50 states and is now in its 30th year, Jeffersonville became involved only two years ago — with much success. National organizers have recognized Jeffersonville with Rookie of the Year and participation awards, and local leaders seek to keep momentum going.
“Each year it gets bigger,” said Sandy Knott, neighborhood resident and organizer for National Night Out in the Cherry Hill Neighborhood.
Nearly 100 people were getting hot dogs, snow cones and popcorn in Bob Hedge Park. Residents said they have seen a turnaround in the neighborhood since they formed a neighborhood association in 2000, and National Night Out is helping to further their goals.
“When we started the neighborhood association in 2000, our neighborhood, it wasn’t unfriendly, but it wasn’t a close-knit neighborhood,” said Alissa Van Gilder, a volunteer for Cherry Hill’s National Night Out and a 25-year resident of the neighborhood. “Now we’ve gotten to be a close-knit group and we watch out for each other. When I first moved in, I didn’t know anybody to speak of in the neighborhood. I have gained some really close friendships. I feel like I’m more part of the neighborhood when I get out and do things like this.”
More than 20 neighborhoods hosted community gatherings, many of which included music, food and giant inflatables that added to the family-fun atmosphere. Area efforts were spearheaded by the Jeffersonville Neighborhood Leadership Alliance, which partnered with the Jeffersonville Police Department.
On the east end of Park Place, the neighborhood association Terraces of Park Place, or TOPP, had a big turn-out of area residents and families. Two large tents on the large open lawn of Park Memorial United Methodist Church provided shade to dozens of people eating and chatting. Some of the food prepared for TOPP’s National Night Out celebration included food grown in the Ladybug’s Landing Community Garden, which is also on the church’s property.
“We just enjoy being neighbors,” said Staci Vecht, TOPP secretary.
Vecht said she sent out emails to encourage people throughout her community to come and enjoy the event.
“We have a lot of people from different communities that come to Jeffersonville, and we are proud of that,” she said. “Jeffersonville is growing by leaps and bounds and to have the influence on the young people to put their roots down here — that’s what we want to do, to create an atmosphere here where people want to stay.”
Vecht said the neighborhood becomes safer when community members know one another and are willing to work together.
That’s what Angel Rainbolt, who is originally from Corydon and moved into the Cherry Hill neighborhood about six years ago, said she liked about the event.
“This is something that does make me feel more secure,” she said. “It seems like these are people who care and are willing to share.”
Keith Levell, who was attending the Franklin Commons National Night Out event, said he enjoys the chance to get to know and meet his neighbors.
“You feel more safe and secure knowing who belongs here,” he said. “You see them walking at night and know who belongs to what house.”
Derek Spence, president of the Franklin Commons Neighborhood Association, said having the event that provides a connection to city officials, and the police department is also important.
Aside from having food and music at the Franklin Commons gathering off of Meigs Avenue, the neighbors were sure to tout themselves as last year’s food drive winner.
Along with the community grill-outs and music the neighborhoods participate in a food-drive contest. The food collected then goes to the Center for Lay Ministries food pantry.
Through the socialization that brings the neighborhood together, a greater sense of pride and care develops among the neighbors.
Jim Moon, pastor at Park Memorial United Methodist Church, said having a closely bonded community not only helps prevent crime, it can also build friendships.
“It has created a real community bond and a fabric that a lot of people that didn’t know each other have became friends,” Moon said. “The neighborhood association has allowed us to introduce those who haven’t met, but actually are neighbors. It forms a network of people that basically help each other out.”