National Night Out, New Town Style

SDCI Vice President Lynell Tobler with an American kestrel
The National Association of Town Watch is a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and promotion of crime prevention awareness within neighborhood watch groups, law enforcement agencies, state and regional crime prevention associations, businesses, and civic groups devoted to safer communities. In August of 1984, NATW hosted its first National Night Out, an early evening event held in neighborhoods throughout the country for the purpose of teaching communities how to boost crime prevention by knowing what to look for, reporting suspicious activity and watching out for one another. NATW bills itself as the nation’s premiere crime prevention network, bringing local law enforcement agencies together with civilian leaders to keep crime watch volunteers informed, interested, involved and motivated. 

newtownhoa-nnofestival13,08-14-13.jpgMany communities have turned this annual summer evening into a community potluck where neighbors come together to share hamburgers, hotdogs and potato salad while getting to know one another and their communities at large. My sister, Leslie, attends such a gathering in her neighborhood, part of the Glenview portion of northern California’s Oakland hills. My own little neighborhood in northwestern Baltimore County, Maryland, is pretty rural; there aren’t really enough of us to warrant inclusion in a national organization such as NATW. Besides, we already know one another pretty well, and we get together fairly often for neighborhood celebrations. We always watch out for each other when one of us is on vacation.

SDCI president Laura Van Scoyoc, left, and I staff a table at NNO while fellow board member Dwight Hendrickson shows a kestral to visitors.
But less than four miles away in a more heavily populated area just to the northeast of my historic farmhouse lies a large planned community of attached “rowhouses”, apartments and single family homes of newer construction. They have a homeowner association and a community pool with a clubhouse adjacent to a large grassy area they call “central park”, which features a sizeable community garden. They call themselves New Town. The gym I belong to is located there, as well as my dry cleaners. While the anchoring supermarket is not the one I patronize for my weekly groceries, I do fill my prescriptions at its pharmacy (see my post Girl Power) and have been stopping there for last-minute ingredients for so many years that I know most of the clerks on a first-name basis.

Some commonly found nursery plants are terribly invasive, wreaking havoc on native species.  Featured here are, from left, stinky sumac, miscanthus grass, autumn olive, Japanese barberry, and mile-a-minute vine
Three years ago the New Town Homeowner Association decided to throw a community festival to commemorate National Night Out. The event was a success and has become an annual celebration. While their rules dictate that nothing can be offered for sale during the event, businesses from the immediate area are encouraged to set up booths to show off or give away items and agendas they would like to promote. Target, as a national sponsor of NATW, always has a table, as do most of the local restaurants, like American Bistro, Don Pablo’s and Rita’s Water Ice.

This year, Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area was invited to have a presence at New Town’s National Night Out. In my capacity as Vice President of Soldiers Delight Conservation, Inc., the Friends group for the unique habitat, I happily agreed to enlist my fellow board members to staff a table from which we could distribute information and educate the public about our nature programs and our ongoing efforts to rehabilitate the rare and endangered ecosystem that borders one side of the New Town neighborhood.

Dwight shows off an American kestrel. More commonly known as a sparrow hawk, this tiny raptor, the smallest in Maryland, is actually a falcon 
Unfortunately, on the official date of NATW’s annual National Night Out this year, which was August 6, we had rain in our area and the threat of severe and dangerous thunderstorms. The director of New Town’s event, Ellen McNeill, along with the rest of the NNO committee, wisely chose to postpone the festivities until the following week.

On Tuesday a blustery cold front from Canada shoved a lingering heat wave and its attendant humidity all the way out to sea, leaving behind some of the most glorious weather I’ve ever seen in the mid-Atlantic in the middle of August. When I arrived at New Town’s central park after work Wednesday to set up my table for the fair, the blue sky was dotted with puffy clouds and a cool breeze kept the temperature from feeling like the mid 70s.

Laura and I have volunteered together on the board of directors of the Soldiers Delight Friends group for many years now. We take great pride in sharing our knowledge about this protected Maryland wildland and work hard to preserve the rare and endangered flora and fauna found there
I was joined at my SDCI table by our board president, Laura Van Scoyoc, who set up a captivating display of attractive but very invasive, and unfortunately popular, landscape plants. Laura invited passersby to guess “what was wrong with these plants” (hint: they’re invasive!!). Fellow board member and expert raptor-handler Dwight Hendrickson brought an American kestrel from our visitor center’s rehabilitation aviary, which was a big hit with children and adults alike.

My gym, the Merritt Athletic Club, provided dance music. Children from the local karate club gave demonstrations. Target raffled off fancy new girl’s and boy’s stingray bicycles. There was a popcorn machine and lots of free offerings from area restaurants. The place was hopping!

Happy children scampered across the vast grassy commons, licking snow cones from Rita’s. Long lines formed for the restaurants’ food tables. We shared our conservation information with lots and lots of people and received several donations in our box. A ladder truck and a tanker from our local volunteer fire company paraded down the boulevard with lights whirling and sirens blaring, to the delight of the younger set. Neighbors greeted neighbors and new friendships were formed. Clearly, the entire neighborhood was enjoying their community get together.

As dance music throbbed through loudspeakers, children and adults got their groove on in the grass at New Town's National Night Out
Now in its thirtieth year, National Night Out is a commendable neighborhood fete, growing from a one-hour program of police-community demonstrations that reached 400 cities in 23 states on its first August evening in 1984, to over 37 million neighborhoods in 15,000 communities this year. I spoke with one of the New Town board members as I packed up my brochures and other display materials at the end of the evening. He estimated that over 800 people attended the New Town community gathering. That’s quite a turnout! I was delighted to have participated in such a worthy celebration. And the New Town homeowner’s association must have been pleased with SDCI, as well. We’ve already been invited back next year!

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