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National Night Out bridges the gap between community and first responders

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Ralph Caprito with his son Ralph, 2 of Lehigh Valley try out the drivers seat of a fire truck from the Williamsport Bureau of Fire during National Night Out at Williamsport Area Middle School Tuesday. The pair were visiting with their parent-in-laws/grandparents David and Rita Strickler of Williamsport. The evening also included face painting, a bus from the River Valley Transit, a book mobile from the James V. Brown Library, dunk booth, and much more.

Kyle Fera was mobbed by youngsters and Brandy Perchinski awed them as did her cannonball, causing a splash in the Jersey Shore Community Pool.

The police officers, who are with the Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police Department, took part Tuesday as National Night Out started out early with temperatures peaking near 90 degrees and later in the evening with a program in Jersey Shore called “Swim with the Cops.”

Across Greater Williamsport members of law enforcement, public safety and fire departments, neighborhood civic groups, the new River Valley Transit Authority, YMCA, STEP Americorps, James V. Brown Library, and houses of worship interacted with neighbors at the events scheduled throughout early afternoon and evening.

National Night Out is a national event that takes part in communities across the United States in various forms. Some places held a walk while others had a kind of festival.

It happens, for the most part, on the first Tuesday of each August, bringing the community and law enforcement together as both partners and fighting to reduce crime, lower drug and alcohol abuse, make communities and homes safer, improve lifestyles and health and prevent street and domestic violence.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Ella Cramer, 8, daughter of Jennalyn Cramer of Williamsport winds up and fires a ball at a target at the dunk tank during National Night Out at Williamsport Area Middle School Tuesday. The evening included a fire truck From Williamsport Bureau of Fire, face painting, a bus from the River Valley Transit, a book mobile from the James V. Brown Library, dunk booth, and much more.

For the officers, firefighters and public safety and service personnel in the city and region, it also was a day and night to enhance the relationships between neighbors they serve, while bringing back a true sense of community and spirit of unity to last year-round.

National Night Out provided an opportunity to bring frontline workers and residents together under positive circumstances, a few hours of camaraderie that can last a lifetime.

Along with creating more community unity, the activities also provided resources for families and senior citizens.

Swim with the cops

Girls and boys cooling off at the pool seemed to appreciate the officers’ efforts to join them in the crystal clear pool water, especially when both took turns sliding down the chute into the deep end.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Birgit Schult of Montoursville prepares for the water as a tennis ball comes dangerously close to the target at the dunk tank during National Night Out at Williamsport Area Middle School Tuesday. The evening included a fire truck From Williamsport Bureau of Fire, face painting, a bus from the River Valley Transit, a book mobile from the James V. Brown Library, dunk booth, and much more.

“We are not retiring any time soon, so it is important to establish relationships early with these kids,” Perchinski said, before leaping back into the water, crossing both legs in the air doing a cannonball.

The youngsters asked the officers about their job choice, whether they arrested everyone they pulled over in vehicles and what their typical day is like.

The Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police handed out backpacks with the police logo on them and usable items such as glow sticks were provided.

The pool site had a dunk-the-cop dunk tank set up along with food trucks that arrived for the evening. Firefighters with companies of Jersey Shore brought engines, apparatus and personnel to show off to the k.

City cares

A few miles east in the city of Williamsport, chiefs and assistant chiefs of police and firefighters interacted with neighbors at the Williamsport Area Middle School parking lot at the entrance to the school building.

Joining them were emergency services and critical needs mass transit, health and recreation personnel offering tips and promotions.

These agencies and authorities added another layer to ensure neighbors feel safe and secure whether they live in Williamsport, or nearby in South Williamsport, DuBoistown, Montoursville or Loyalsock Township and Old Lycoming Township.

Williamsport Bureau of Police Administration Chief of Police Justin Snyder and Assistant Chief Jason Bolt along with other officers chatted with adults and children, alike.

Making friends with police

At the event, a father brought his child up to the officers, including city police Sgt. Jody Miller, who asked if he was going to play football.

“Yes,” the youngster said.

“What position?”

“Lineman,” he answered.

The boy reacted with glee.

“We are interacting with people,” Bolt said, a seemingly simplistic response, but one holding so much value.

That brief moment in time may make a difference in the child’s perception of police in uniform.

The youngster may recall the few words the police officers spoke to him and remember the officers were smiling and nice and that might happen when peer pressure calls him to do wrong.

The same lessons and interaction held true for the Williamsport Bureau of Fire fighters, who demonstrated Engine 14-1. That is the Old Lycoming Township engine manned by two city firefighters at the township station house on Dewey Avenue.

It is a mutual alliance between the city and township that has continued for 22 years and led to quicker response times to the West End and parts of the township in the case of structure fires, vehicle accidents, man-made or natural disasters and emergency medical calls.

For those interested in the new River Valley Transit Authority, RVTA employees welcomed the families and youngsters back to school, which is in a few weeks, but, nonetheless, provided a chance for authority members to chat with families about the bus service.

The autism-themed bus, wrapped in colorful puzzle pieces, was parked and on display.

Authority employees Renee Smith and Skip Cochran broke exclusive, exciting news about the soon to be announced ‘Hepburnville Express’ coming to the Cogan Station area, which will be planned as two morning and two afternoon stops to be coordinated with the Williamsport Area School District, but the full details were not released at the event and there would be more on that information later from the authority.

On a table, sponsored by the Lycoming Tioga and Sullivan Emergency Medical Services Council and its affiliation with the county Department of Public Safety, they were giving bags away, but also important materials and literature for all ages including a Dial 911 pack, bus stop law water safety, Poison Control and stickers and tips from Mr. Yuck, concussion prevention and notification safety tips, ways to report bullying, Click it or Ticket seat belt use and law, pedestrian safety, fall-proof homes, which is especially valuable for the elderly and indigent, work zone safety and information on dangers of inhalants among other materials.

The table had free hand sanitizers because of the requirement to prevent germs and lower pandemic numbers.

Face painting on arms and faces was popular as was the video at … The River Valley branches of the YMCA had financial assistance information, materials for healthy seniors, information on joining the YMCA and youth and adult programs and leagues.

STEP Americorps booth had a prize wheel at its story mobile site where guests could spin a wheel and win one of many neat prizes designed to educate and entertain.

Another dunk tank was drawing a crowd to try to hit the bullseye target with a tennis ball and drop a woman dressed in Victorian-period dress into the water tank.

Lycoming County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr. was at the event speaking to people as was Jeff Reeder, president of Citizen Corps Council, an organization that over the years has provided neighborhood safety tips and coordinated activities with City Council’s public safety committee.

A church provided information about food distribution, which is a growing public safety need with so many people needing a little help as the inflation is causing the price of groceries to soar and food insecurity is a concern.

Members of the food distribution provided details about Northway Community Church, 1684 Mile Drive. It is held the second Thursday of every month between 4 and 6 p.m.. It is food given to families who bring their own box and then shop for what they may need. It is a partnership between the community church and Agape Fellowship partnering to serve the community.

Karen Anne Mello, Williamsport’s National Night Out and Back to School organizer and Williamsport Elderly — Better Tomorrows social services coordinator, said it could not have gone better.

She thanked the participants and sponsors, including Lycoming County Safe Kids, TailGamer, Agape Fellowship, Diamond Street Church, YMCA, PepsiCo, Wegmans, Camp Lamar, Williamsport Elderly Residents and Better Tomorrows.

“You all came out to show the community that we care,” Mello said.

The amount of sponsors that reached out … was massive, she said.

A steady stream of families visited the stations with activities and giveaways.

It was awesome to see the community connecting with the local fire and police departments, Mello noted.

River Valley Transit Authority met with guests and they got to meet with their new mascot. The YMCA staff offered free guest passes for families. Better Tomorrows and residents of Williamsport Elderly offered basic back to school supplies, a snack and a drink. The snacks were donated by Camp Lamar and the beverages by PepsiCo.

The community enjoyed dunking volunteers of Agape Fellowship. They also enjoyed some screen time provided by TailGamer LLC., sponsored by Diamond Street Church and Agape Fellowship.

Lycoming County Public Safety Department had information on becoming a volunteer and assisted with passing out pedestrian safety tools, sponsored by Lycoming County Safe Kids.

Students got their faces painted by volunteers of Agape Fellowship.

“The main take away from this is that Williamsport cares,” Mello said. Better Tomorrows plans to “magnify opportunities” for next year’s event.

“I hope to see returning partners, and more community members come out for this next year,” Mello said, adding she’d keep the community posted on updates.

Several other communities also had National Night Out events including: Old Lycoming Township, South Williamsport and DuBoistown at DuBoistown, Muncy Township, Montoursville and Ives Run in Tioga County, to name a few.

These National Night Out activities took place in various forms. Over the years there have been walks through neighborhoods, with participants asking residents to turn porch lights on in solidarity.

Streets and playgrounds should be walkable without fear, lives for young adults and older folks should be secure and safe and people should be aware of help and assistance, guidance and tips are available not just for one day of the year but for all year around.

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