— For one Southeast Portland neighborhood, this Tuesday's National Night Out will help to make their neighborhood a better place to live.
"Look at that house," points out Erica Bjerning, chairwoman for the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association. "It used to be super run-down and now it's all cute looking."
The Foster-Powell Neighborhood in Southeast Portland has held a national night out event for years. Folks there say they've noticed a significant change for the better. They tell KATU that they've seen less graffiti — and more kids and families playing outside. For these neighbors, both of these changes are encouraging signs.
National night out is a chance for residents to meet one another, build a stronger community and work with police to improve the area. This is the 26th annual night out coordinated by the National Association of Town Watch. NATW is a coalition of municipalities, law enforcement agencies, crime prevention organizations, community groups and neighborhoods "interested in encouraging participation in anti-crime programs and strengthening neighborhood connections."
Organizers of the Foster-Powell neighborhood's National Night Out expect 250 people this year. This year it's a concert, held 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Kern Park. The park is at the southeast corner of Southeast 67th Avenue and Center Street, three city blocks north of bustling Foster Road.
In Portland, 114 groups signed up to coordinate events. These events range from an ice cream social in Arbor Lodge to a block party in Woodstock. Check out all 114 "Night Out" events in Portland here.
Meanwhile, Vancouver and Salem officials held kick-offs for their own National Night Events this past week. Check out those options at KATU.com's Family Matters "National Night Out" link.
"Events like this really send a message to people this is a pretty strong community and that people are really watching out for neighbors," said Erica Bjerning, chairwoman of the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association.
The Foster-Powell neighborhood has seen a 28 percent decrease in crime over the past five years. Residents credit that decrease to greater community involvement.
Along with traditional outside lights and front porch vigils, most cities and towns now celebrate National Night Out with a variety of special citywide and neighborhood events such as block parties, cookouts, parades, festivals, visits from local law enforcement, safety fairs and youth events. The event officially takes place Aug. 4, but events are happening before and after that Aug. 4 date.
"I think it [made our neighborhood] significantly better," Bjerning said. "We've been in the neighborhood for four-and-a-half years and when we moved in there was a swat team raid next door and there were a couple neglected houses on the block."
Now, Bjerning said, in the past four-and-a-half years "there's a wonderful family living next to us and the houses on our block are cleaned up."
Meanwhile, attendance at association meetings and at neighborhood block parties and other events have grown. "I've seen a larger and larger attendance and more participation and more interest in what's going on in the neighborhood and issues that affect the whole area," said Christian Smith, co-chair for the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association.
Tracy Gratto is the event planner for this year's national night out party at the Foster-Powell neighborhood. We caught up with her, Smith and Bjerning as they put finishing touches on this Tuesday's event — another year of music, food and fun activities that Gratto said also builds community connections.
"People like to learn about the neighborhood and know that it's a resource," Gratto said, " but they also like to come out to have a good time, there are a lot of kids that come out and that's also a good way to kids to hang out and gives them some sort of ownership of the park."
National night out is designed to:
It's all about "continuing that community driven feeling that we are all connected to one another," Gratto said. They've also seen more kids playing in the area and young families out and about.
"Once you plant that seed of pride with involvement it gets a little bit infectious," Christian said. "I think people start to get enthusiastic about the community and neighborhood."