National Night Out Day is traditionally celebrated on the first Tuesday in August. Due to COVID-19, this year may look a little different. Some cities that would normally hold big celebrations have canceled National Night Out this year. Some cities have postponed their festivities to October. The vast majority of communities that celebrate neighborhood by neighborhood are open to activities mindful of rules in place to keep people safe as to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
What is National Night Out all about? It has been celebrated randomly dating back to the early 1970s, however, it became a “national” day and has been celebrated in August since 1984. Both in the United States and Canada, it is sponsored by The National Association of Town Watch. The idea behind National Night Out is to create partnerships in neighborhoods by raising awareness in communities and cooperative efforts between police and neighborhoods across America. There are a number of programs and associations connected with National Night Out such as:
- Drug prevention
- Town watch
- Neighborhood watch
- Other anti-watch programs
Notably, the Dog Walker Watch group has become part of the program. It is estimated there are 75 million dog owners walking their dogs in their neighborhoods on a daily basis. Who better to be tuned in to the goings-on in their neighborhoods and to be able to aid law enforcement or other first responders?
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The observance of National Night Out started with people turning on their lights inside and outside of their homes and sitting on their front porches or lawns. Since 1984, National Night Out has grown from 2.5 million participants to 38 million residents. Today these events came to be as simple as backyard barbecues to city festivals. The most important thing is to make a positive impact on neighborhoods by providing information. If you don’t live in a neighborhood that already has a Neighborhood Watch program, this is the perfect opportunity to get information to your neighborhood. That could be by inviting a spokesperson from your local law enforcement office to come and speak about a “watch” program and answer questions. They may have printed information that can be distributed. It is an opportunity to raise awareness about getting to know your neighbors and what you can do as a community to keep each other safe and build a good working relationship with your law enforcement agency. National Night Out provides an opportunity to interact with your neighbors in a fun and relaxed setting.
Just because we are in the middle of a pandemic doesn’t mean we can’t still set up pandemic friendly celebrations!
You may simply “tailgate” from your own driveway or front yard. Maybe you set up smaller tables, lawn chairs, or blankets socially distanced in a few front yards. It would be a good idea to ask those who are attending to fill out a sign-up sheet with names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. If you don’t know all your neighbors, especially if you are new to the neighborhood, distributing a neighborhood map or listing of addresses after your event can help everyone to feel more included and familiar with their neighbors. It’s a good thing you got those email addresses!! Name tags so names and faces can be put together is another ice breaker. If you decide you want your activities to spill over into the street, you will need to check into the requirements of getting a permit to close a portion of your street. The same may hold true with regard to noise if you will be piping in music or have some live entertainment. Get your permit. With music, there’s always dancing in the street or karaoke!
As you get to know your neighbors, the adults may find they have skills they can swap with others in the area. You could do a book exchange during your National Night Out event. Maybe you have neighbors that are interested in forming a book club, hosting a game night, or other activities. Of course, your event needs to have activities for the kids. How about a water balloon or sponge ball toss? A parade of decorated bikes, chalk art, scavenger hunt, talent show, giant water slide, pinata, or races (e.g. cotton ball on a spoon). What about a family-friendly movie set up on a big screen? Whatever you plan, the most important things are to get outside into the fresh air and enjoy your neighborhood! Keep those masks on, social distance, and have hand sanitizer stations set up.
Taking National Night Out a Step Further
It helps you to become better acquainted with your neighborhood. You may learn some interesting history of your area. Are there any at-risk neighbors especially during this pandemic? Maybe you have an elderly or disabled neighbor who could use some extra help and someone to watch out for them? You could find out that you have like-minded neighbors interested in doing a neighborhood clean-up project or beautification assignment. Is their someone who may be interested in doing a neighborhood newsletter or organizing random acts of kindness? By becoming more involved with your neighbors and in your neighborhood, you become more invested in keeping your neighborhood a desirable, safe place to live. Maybe you have a situation in your neighborhood that is bringing crime or other unsafe elements into your area. Have you noticed suspicious activity? Have your neighbors noticed this too? Learn what you and your neighbors can do to become empowered with your local law enforcement agency to make your neighborhood safe again. It may be as simple as recording license plate numbers, having a dialogue with your local law enforcement agency, or speaking with a landlord. It’s amazing to read some of the stories of neighbors coming together and making their home and community safer.
If you live on a busy street and can’t find a place to get together, perhaps someone in the neighborhood has an employer that would be willing to donate their parking lot for an evening? What about a possible park in the area where you could meet? In the summer of 2020, it quickly becomes a “bring your own lawn chair event”! Get creative! Your event can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. Enlist neighbors to help.
Let’s hope and pray that next year, 2021, we will be post-pandemic and some of our planning can be easier!
Happy National Night Out Everybody!