By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

Residents take the night off to have a (National) Night Out


August 9, 2005

Kylah Anderson, 19 months, choose the popsicle over the police car while Zone 3 officer Steve Crisanti keeps a watchful eye on her. The pair were among the more than 70 people who came to Allentown's first ever National Night Out celebration. Additional photos in National Night Out link.

National Night Out was celebrated in Allentown and upper Knoxville on August 2 with both neighborhoods showing a concern about the “criminal element” that prowls through the streets of these sister communities.

Knoxville was hosting its 12th consecutive “Night Out” festival in the St. Canice Church parking lot on Orchard Place. The event is hosted by the Upper Knoxville Block Watch group.

A modest turnout of about 25 to 35 people streamed in and out during the two-hour event. One of the major drawbacks to this year's night out was the schedule entertainment, “The Regular Joes” failed to show up.

Blockwatch officer Dennis Terreri, who lives just three doors from the parking lot, went to Plan B by going home to retrieve his karaoke machine for entertainment. The crowd sung happy birthday to one of those in attendance. Also, one of the kids from the neighborhood sang a rendition of “Amazing Grace” which moved many in the crowd.

“I can't feel bad that the entertainment didn't show up because we had no control over that,” blockwatch president Marianne Bennett said. “All city neighborhoods have problems with the possible exception of Squirrel Hill. But there are a lot of people who still care about Knoxville. This [event] shows that we still have pride and spirit in our neighborhood. It shows that people are still fighting for a safer Knoxville.”

Bennett admits that the neighborhood has had several incidents in recent weeks that have caused concern for her and her neighbors. She said she has often heard gun shots go off at night this summer.

“They are usually a few blocks away, but it's still a scary thing no matter where it's happening around here,” Bennett said.

Mike Urbaniak, a 45-year resident of Charles Street just a block from Knoxville Middle School, admits the neighborhood is not the same as it was when he was a young man. However, Urbaniak, now retired, said he has never had thoughts of ever leaving the neighborhood.

“I live on the 200 block and things have quieted down there,” Urbaniak said. “I know there are some problems on a few other blocks around here, but there are still a lot of good people who live here. It's not all bad like everybody says.”

Allentown held its first-ever National Night Out event. The Allentown Civic Association and Allentown Community Planner Joanna Demming were co-organizers of the project which had a larger turnout than the one at Knoxville.

Food and drink was provided by the Allentown organizers. They also had a D.J. to play upbeat music from the Hilltop United Methodist Church parking lot where the event was held on the 600 block of East Warrington Ave.

“I found out Allentown is a diverse community which is great. Everybody should become more familiar with each other in the neighborhood. I think that's very important,” said Demming who has a Master's degree in social work at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“The volunteers have been awesome,” Demming said. ‘We got a few new volunteers for [the Night Out], but we need to get more people involved.”

Allentown resident Dianne Jackson is new to the neighborhood, having moved to E. Warrington Ave. four months ago from Monessen. Jackson moved to Allentown because it is much closer to her job at the Brentwood-Whitehall Shopping Plaza.

She did not know much about Allentown before moving here with her two teenage daughters. However, she feels right at home and does not feel threatened despite reports of drug-dealing and violence that occurs along the main street.

Jackson who was on her way home from work when she noticed the festivities taking place next door to her residence.

“I didn't know anything about this, but when it looked like a party was going on, I figured why not go over there and find out what's happening. It looked like a Block Party to me. I figured it's a good way to meet some of the people who live around here,” said Jackson. “I told [the Civic Association] that if they need volunteers, I'm here to help.”

Zone 3 Commander William Joyce attended both events as well as “Night Outs” in Beechview and Brookline.

Commander Joyce feels the positives about neighborhoods like Allentown and Knoxville are still very evident in both places.

“There's a lot of police interaction with the residents in both neighborhoods and it's all very positive,” Joyce said. “There's no doubt that there is a criminal element that walks up and down these streets all the time, but there are a lot of people who live there that want a peaceful and safe environment for their children. We're getting more people coming forward to help the police. There was a shooting in Allentown not too long ago where we had several witnesses step up and assist us. That shows a lot of people are tired of the negative things that go on.”

Judy Hackel, president of the Allentown Civic Association, was pleased by the 20 or so volunteers who turned out to help with the organization's first “Night Out” event. However, Hackel would like to see more resident step up and volunteer their time to make Allentown a better community.

“People need to come out on a night like this to meet their neighbors,” Hackel said. “People need to find out what they need to do to improve their neighborhood. And they need to come out and meet their police officers and talk about their concerns and to find out what's going on in Allentown.

“The politicians and the police know about Allentown. They all know who we are,” Hackel said. “I think we do a good job with our Civic Association [in dealing with city, county and state officials]. What we're trying to do now is reach the local people to get them more involved in the community. There's just a small group of people who are doing the work here. If we could get more people to help with the work so that they know there are things going on in their neighborhood which they need to get involved with.”


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