Parking spaces at Wolfe Park were difficult to come by Tuesday night as families came out to celebrate the National Night Out, an annual event heightening awareness of crime and drug prevention.
Children lined up to try their aim at the dunk tank and for the bounce houses. Michele Russo of Connecticut Balloon Creations made swords and animals and Studio On the Move offered arts and crafts. But the main goal of the night was the chance to meet Monroe's emergency services professionals and volunteers.
National Night Out was sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch and co-sponsored locally by the Monroe Police Department. Target is a national corporate sponsor this year.
"We feel it's very important that the public gets to see another side of police officers, not just when they're hurt or when a crime has been committed," Chief John Salvatore said.
National Night Out is celebrated by over 15,325 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases around the world. Det. Kelly McFarland organized Monroe's event.
Police officers shared safety tips and handed out pamphlets and stuffed animals at one table. At another, Det. Michael Chaves showed off digital forensics equipment used to take information off of cell phones. He said deleted numbers and texts can still be retrieved.
A crowd of children giggled during a police dog demonstration performed by K-9 officers Dennis Bradshaw and Jeff Loomis and their canines Liberty and Gunner.
A Community Gathering
As families walked in from the parking lot, a line of fire trucks from all three town companies — Monroe, Stevenson and Stepney, and Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service ambulances were the first thing they saw.
Tony and Jennifer Scott brought their twin daughters Addison and Lauren, both three-and-a-half years old.
"This is great. We went over to see the dogs and, of course, Elmo," said Tony, who is a member of the Parks & Recreation Commission. "As soon as we came in they saw the fire engines and they said, 'Dad look at that!' This shows that Monroe's still together and putting politics aside. This is what Monroe's about: The family and the park."
"Even though they're only three, this is great for them to see what the police do, what the fire department does and what EMS does," Scott added.
Amanda Tiberio brought her children, Aiden, 5, and Mia, 2, and Aiden got a stuffed bear.
"We came last year and loved it," said Tiberio, adding the child identification program, which helps officers to track down children who go missing, was her favorite aspect last year.
Asher Pavia-Previs, 5, painted a picture at the Studio On the Move table.
His mother, Lisa Pavia, said, "I like the whole community coming together. The kids getting to do things together and having fun with each other, while seeing what the community has to offer. It's a fun night."
The town's new Community Emergency Response Team, CERT, had a table with volunteers Carissa Black, Carol Ritter and Davinder Heslin.
Black said, "People are seeing us and learning what it is."
There are currently 15 members, but a training session is coming soon to add new ones. It will begin with an orientation at Edith Wheeler Memorial Library on Oct. 11. For information about how to register, email David York, the town Emergency Management director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ritter said, "If there's an emergency, half of the people may be at work."
"And of lot of us have kids," Black added.
"So we need a big base," Ritter said.
A.D.A.M., an organization discouraging gambling, substance abuse and underage drinking, was represented.
Peggy Villani, a member, said they were promoting Family Day, encouraging parents to eat dinner with their children on Sept. 24.
A.D.A.M. also has an underage drinking forum for freshmen at Masuk High School scheduled for Nov. 7.
"We work very closely with the high school," Villani said, praising the school administrators for their support.
The Center for Women & Families, which has a satellite office at Monroe Town Hall; the Monroe Technology Department and the Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association all had representatives at the event as well.
First Selectman Steve Vavrek and State Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-112th) attended the National Night Out.
Hovey came with her husband Paul Balsano.
"Everybody is so busy now, that we lose that sense of community," Hovey said. "Anything we can do like this is great."
Vavrek said, "I want to thank Det. Kelly McFarland and the police department for putting this together — and the Parks & Recreation Department. It's just another great community event in Monroe."