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National Night Out 2022: Look for the Helpers

In May 2000, a Department of Justice publication, Bulletin from the Field, described factors and events that make National Night Out successful. An important tool in building social capital and reducing crime, National Night Out [NNO] events have grown from 400 communities in 1984 to 16,000 communities in recent years.

In 2022, the San Jose Police Department was among the 364 California cities to engage with grassroots leaders and community members through NNO staples such as block parties, cookouts, parades, contests, youth activities, and more to help neighbors feel more comfortable contacting law enforcement.

Cities like San Jose understand that sparking community engagement is a result of engaging with the community. CommUniverCity’s mission is to spark and accelerate community engagement, in part, by leveraging the people power and expertise of SJSU faculty and students. This work is not possible without maintaining a network of community acquaintances, trusted grassroots leaders, and collaborative partners who are proud to serve the public.

It was in the spirit of ongoing collaboration that CommUniverCity ventured out into four Central San Jose Neighborhoods: McKinley, Roosevelt, Washington, Spartan Keyes.

Each of these neighborhoods has its own leadership, connections, and style.

Martin Park, a fantastic [and vital] community asset, was the setting for NNO in the McKinley Bonita Neighborhood. The leadership and collaboration among the McKinley Bonita Neighborhood Association and Project Hope was on full display as neighbors and kids circled the fire truck, earned goodie bags after visiting resource tables like Sacred Heart, and burst out of the bouncy house full of energy. Here, CommUniverCity hosted a table with gardening activities related to its Growing Sustainably Program. CommUniverCity also met folks interested in becoming Promotores for its new project with the City of San Jose.

At the Roosevelt Roller Hockey Rink, CommUniverCity was introduced to Sandra, the new manager at the Roosevelt Community Center. Her civic duty to the residents of San Jose is exemplary. Also at this event, a student enrolled at a local charter high school shared that he is interested in starting his college career at SJSU and becoming a firefighter. And perhaps, after having a seed planted, may consider becoming a fire investigator later in his career. It was hard to miss the celebrities at this event. For most people, it was probably Sharkie or the police officers with stickers and swag. CommUniverCity made a beeline toward the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association to check in with the latest plans for the upcoming Dumpster Day. 

Washington Neighborhood’s event hub, Brenda Lopez Plaza, was as alive with its culture and vibrancy as ever. Another Project Hope collaboration, this one with the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association, this event pulled out all the stops: food trucks, firefighters, Folklorico dancers on the built-in stage, resource tables, and a 1964 Plymouth police patrol car displayed in all its glory. It’s hard to say if SJPD knew there would be an incoming high school freshman hoping to enroll in the mechanic program at his high school, but seeing this nicely restored car certainly could have been a sign to continue the path of owning his own auto shop one day. The Washington community is special for many reasons. One of those reasons is the community member who, many moons ago, shared that community work ‘gives her life’. In between the dancing, music and raffles, a quick check-in: to this day, she has not tired of it and CommUniverCity continues to be inspired by her and community leaders like her. 

Down the way on 8th Street, the Spartan Keyes NAC NNO block party at the cul de sac was reminiscent of the intimate events during the infancy phase of NNO. Neighbors, already regular acquaintances, brought out their chairs, their potluck dishes, and karaoke machines. For the kids, sidewalk chalk, cornhole, light-up hula hoops, and bubbles big enough to rival the winners of giant pumpkin growing competitions were fun enough. The big news of the night: Spartan Keyes has its own SJSU National Champion Athlete right in the neighborhood. Under “FYI” news, CommUniverCity was informed that help from SJSU students would be needed again this semester. When the time comes, CommUniverCity will introduce the students to community leaders and engage them in the work that is being done to keep neighborhoods safe, vibrant, and healthy.

Spartan-Keyes neighbors making bubbles as big as a 3-year-old!

It is these interactions, outside of structured monthly meetings and straight from the source, that CommUniverCity gets a fuller view of what has happened, what is happening, what could and should be happening in these communities. These interactions help inform the service learning projects that are selected for each semester. 

More than anything, these NNO events, intended to create safe communities, display and make possible a meeting among neighbors who care and are invested in their communities. NNO attendees are what Mr. Rogers might have described as ‘the helpers’ when he urged children to find them when something is wrong. Without NNO, neighbors, especially the youngest neighbors, might not know who they can turn to for help. NNO shows that help is all around. It may not present itself in a uniform. It may be Miss Rosa watering her garden every evening. Whether it is National Night Out or a normal day, ‘look for the helpers’. That is the spirit of National Night Out and why CommUniverCity gladly continues to participate in engaging with those who help make the work of creating vibrant and healthy communities possible. See you at the next one!

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