Neighbors rule night

Neighbors rule night

Residents of the Dr. Ellis subdivision in northwest Urbana took to the streets again Tuesday night, but it was a celebration of togetherness for their neighborhood.

"This is the 10th year for us," said Shirley Mock, a member of the Neighborhood Watch group participating in the annual National Night Out – a program aimed at getting neighbors together to prevent crime.

"We look out for each other," Mock said.

Many families have lived in the area for a long time, said Dorothy Carter, who lives in the 1500 block of North Romine Street, where the neighborhood residents started and finished their march. Many of the children have grown, but the heads of many families still live there and call each other or call authorities if they see anything suspicious, she said.

That's the idea behind National Night Out: to make neighborhoods safer by organizing and working together, according to Mabel Thomas, neighborhood coordinator for the city of Champaign. She said safety and preparedness have to start with families and their neighbors. Organized neighborhood groups are essential to crime prevention, she said.

"Programs like Neighborhood Watch and National Night Out promote neighborhood safety and preparedness," Thomas said.

Champaign-Urbana, Danville and Rantoul were among communities participating in the 20th National Night Out. Last year, an estimated 3 million people from more than 9,800 communities nationwide participated in the program. Activities nationwide include block parties, cookouts, parades, flashlight walks, contests and youth programs.

This year, for the first time, Champaign and Urbana officials jointly celebrated the event with a program at West Side Park in downtown Champaign.

Highlight of the event was presentation of information on family safety and disaster preparedness.

Urbana sent representatives of its patrol division, K-9 and parking programs.

"This is a good way to get together with people with a lot of resources so they can ask whatever questions they have," said Urbana police Lt. Pat Connolly.

Among the activities for the joint celebration were a family safety and disaster preparedness presentation by the Champaign Citizens Corps, demonstrations by Illinois Power on electrical safety, by State Farm Insurance on how to use 911 for emergency services and by Carle Foundation Hospital on self-defense and bicycle safety.

Sponsors included the Salvation Army, which provided lemonade and hot dogs, Domino's Pizza, First Federal Bank, the Champaign County Historical Society's popcorn wagon, PersonalCare, Crimestoppers of Champaign County, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, Meijer Inc., Schnuck's, the Central Illinois Apartment Association, the UI Police Department and the Triad-Seniors and Law Enforcement Together program.

Several neighborhoods in Rantoul planned to participate, including some that have also been doing it for many years. This was the first year, however, for the Maplewood Apartments on Hobson Drive.

"We're combining National Night Out with a neighborhood cookout," said Rachel Knight, manager of the apartment complex, which has about 150 children and 150 adult residents.

Activities included child fingerprinting and a demonstration by the volunteer fire department along with hot dogs and hamburgers for the cookout.

The "cost" of participating was a donation of one item of canned goods that will be donated to the Rantoul food pantry, Knight said.

"This complex has had a bad reputation even though a lot of the problems have gone away," Knight said. "We're trying to change people's outlooks on the complex."

The best way to do that, she said, is to get people involved, she said.

Dee and Dean Moore of Champaign were among the people attending the event in West Side Park and said more people should have participated.

The disaster preparedness program was very good, Dee said, because it reminds people that they need to be prepared because they will panic when a real disaster strikes.

Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite said family safety depends on being prepared, and neighborhood safety depends on citizens being alert to something wrong.

"Our firefighters and police officers can't be everywhere," Satterthwaite said. "Our officers are only as good as the information they get and the information they get has to come from our citizens."

You can reach Steve Bauer at (217) 351-5318 or via e-mail at sbauer@news-gazette.com.

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