While the presence of the Stanislaus County bomb squad vehicle in particular had some residents wondering if there was some type of emergency, the large entourage was celebrating National Night Out, an annual event to promote local safety.
In Patterson, which was celebrating its third National Night Out in a row, three fire trucks, two fire command vehicles, the county bomb squad unit, five sheriff’s patrol vehicles and a traffic motorcycle made up the motorcade that wound through the city streets heading to six block parties.
City Manager Rod Butler said the costs didn’t exceed $3,000 to put on the whole event, including overtime hours and fuel for all the vehicles. He indicated that the amount was budgeted every year and the outreach was well worth it.
Grayson’s event included a helicopter landing from Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson and a full-on community celebration.
National Night Out is an annual event that aims to strengthen communities by encouraging neighbors to build stronger relationships with each other and with local emergency responders. The event also tries to build participation in local anticrime programs. The ultimate goal is to send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and want to fight against crime.
Patterson Mayor Luis Molina said that many times, a person’s first contact with police or firefighters is on a very bad day, and National Night Out aims to change that.
“It’s a chance for sheriff, fire and emergency personnel to saturate the community and for folks to meet them in something other than a crisis situation,” Molina said.
Democratic Congressional candidate Jose Hernandez, who stopped by a block party at the home of Gordon and Nancy Barbosa on Moe Drive, agreed with that sentiment.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for neighbors to meet and also engage with the people who protect the city,” said the District 10 candidate.
Patterson resident Rob Downing, who visited a party at Molina’s home on Yellowhammer Drive, said it was a worthwhile event.
“It’s a good thing for everyone to get to know each other,” he said. “Letting everyone know who you are is a win-win situation for everybody.”
The caravan also visited at the Patterson Skate Park for the first time. Patterson Fire Chief Tori Hughes said participants made it their final stop at the request of Councilwoman Annette Smith.
Patterson Police Deputy Casey Hill said he had seen the annual parties pay dividends.
“The more we get to know people, the more they’re comfortable in coming up to us and talking to us,” he said. “Meeting people means they’re more apt to give me info later.”
Residents appeared to be having a good time — socializing, mingling with emergency workers and consuming hot dogs and cold drinks as they got to know one another.
“I think this is a great public relations tool,” Patterson Fire Chief Steve Hall said. “At least they can know that we’re here to assist them in any way we can, not just in a time of need.
The sheriff agreed.
“It’s a terrific opportunity to strengthen our relationship with the community,” Christianson said. “Especially with young people.”
Ten years of celebration in Grayson
About six miles to the north, music played and food was served to more than 250 people who gathered at the United Community Center in Grayson for that town’s 10th annual National Night Out.
The town’s celebration has grown in size from its beginnings at Leroy Fitzsimmons Park to fill the now-7-year-old United Community Center, its backyard and surrounding parks, where dancers performed to mariachi music and performed traditional Aztec dance.
As the music played, people of all ages sat and visited and took photos of the evening’s events.
Stanislaus County District 5 Supervisor Jim DeMartini said he enjoys the gathering each August.
“I like it — Grayson is the closest community to where I live,” DeMartini said. “I always enjoy it with the music and dancing, and I come back every year.”
More than 250 hot dog meals, cooked by Boy Scout Troop 82, were dished up by Grayson residents and free to all who attended the evening celebration. Information booths lined the basketball court at the park, telling residents of services offered locally.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s helicopter landed in a Grayson field to the surprise of the crowd. The helicopter landing, once an annual event, had not been a part of the festivities in recent years.
Christianson and sheriff’s deputies allowed residents to peek inside the craft, and parents took photographs of children next to the helicopter.
Westley firefighters gave stickers to children who received an explanation of fire gear before sitting in the truck. At the end of the evening, firefighters turned on the hoses, and streams of water drained rained down on happy children.
One of the organizers, Lilia Lomeli-Gil, said the event is a cooperative effort of a number of organizations, such as Grayson Community Group, Grayson Community Services District, Westley Fire Department, Stanislaus Behavioral Health & Recovery Services, the Grayson Neighborhood Council and various residents, who host fundraisers throughout the year to help with the $500 cost of the party. Grayson-based Party Time Rentals donated the use of a bouncing bin for children to enjoy. Children who participate in Police Activities League volunteered to set up and also helped with face painting and cleanup.
Hector Ornelas, a Westley Fire Department captain and Grayson resident, said crime had decreased in the little berg as the result of National Night Out.
“It’s keeping people more aware of their surroundings by getting to know their neighbors and watch out for each other,” Ornelas said.
Antonio Cruz, who was at the park with his children and grandchildren, said the evening spanned the generations.
“Everything is going great,” Cruz said. “I am happy for the kids.”
Lomeili-Gil, one of the celebration’s organizers, said the Grayson Community Group started this year as an offshoot of National Night Out. The new group is part of the Community Capacity Building Project in partnership with Stanislaus Behavioral Health Agency and is going strong, she said.
“This is the first of many events we’re hoping to be organizing,” Lomeli-Gil said.
Juan Reyna, who has lived in Grayson since 1966 and is also in the Grayson Community Group, said the group is moving forward.
‘The Grayson Community Group’s goal is to do projects around the community,” Reyna said.
The first project is placing a “Welcome to Grayson” sign on the corner of Grayson and Laird roads near One Stop Market.
Maria Sermeno, another community group member, said she moved from San Francisco to Patterson and then to Grayson a couple of years ago and loves the small town.
“It’s about the community coming together,” Sermeno said. “We are looking to empower the leadership with the community and with a sense of hopefulness. Grayson has been known as a bad town, but we are not. There are a lot of good people here. It’s like every community — we have our ups and downs.”
A work day to prepare for the welcome sign is planned from 7:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 11, at One Stop Market, Laird and Grayson roads. All volunteers are welcome.
For information: firstname.lastname@example.org or “Grayson Community Group” on Facebook.
Nick Rappley and Maddy Houk can be reached at 892-6187.