Music filled the air Tuesday in Gregory Park as neighbors gathered for an event they hope will be repeated in multiple area neighborhoods next year.
The Northside Residents Association took part in the 19th annual National Night Out as did neighbors in more than 9,700 communities across the nation, at military bases worldwide and in Canada.
National Night Out brings neighbors together with law enforcement, firefighters, community groups and area businesses in an effort to create safer neighborhoods.
Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc said he was pleased to see the nearly 300 people who gathered for the food, fellowship, face painting and games.
He said the neighborhood block party is a way to fight crime by getting neighbors to know each other.
Once those connections are made, neighbors -- who are typically the first to notice something out of place -- can help prevent crime, he said.
"You can help us help your neighborhood be a safer place to live," Bolduc told the group.
Later Bolduc said residents should trust their instincts and if they see some thing out of place, it probably is. That is when law enforcement can intervene.
Bolduc was involved with 26 neighborhood watch parties when he was in Maple Grove and the city had a presence at each one from fire trucks to squad cars and even park officials.
"I hope we get to that point here," he said.
The Brainerd Fire Department was on hand Tuesday with children climbing into the rig to get a closer look. Next year Bolduc said he hopes there are neighborhood National Night Out gatherings in all the areas where neighborhood groups are developing.
"These are signs of healthy communities," Bolduc said.
The cool, breezy summer evening held mosquitoes at bay for the gathering. Parents tried to carry on conversations while keeping a watchful eye on children who danced and ran about the plaza where the musicians played.
Older children circled on bikes with name tags stuck to their caps.
Residents were advised to bring chairs or blankets and bug spray. But everything else was provided thanks to a lengthy list of donors.
Music from Diane Saumer and Friends, who have been together for 12 years, acted as a draw throughout the evening. The musical group's members included northside residents Diane Saumer and Bob Guidi. One member, Dawn Hill, born in Brainerd, also plays organ for the Minnesota Twins baseball games.
Marlin and Renate King moved into north Brainerd last September. They were one of the couples with young children who attended Tuesday and continued to meet neighbors. Renate King said they enjoyed the experience.
"Now when someone waves at me I don't have to say, 'Who's that?'" she said and smiled.
Individuals and business owners, many who lived on the northside, donated food, funds and supplies. Now the plan is to have an annual event.
Krista Soukup, one of the northside organizers for the event, said they were not sure how many people would arrive for this first gathering until 5 p.m.
"And then they just started coming and didn't stop," she said. "We needed this."
Fellow organizer Jenny Gunsbury overheard people say they were talking to neighbors they had not seen in years. Others were meeting for the first time.
"That's just what we want," Gunsbury said. "That's the whole point."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.