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National Night Out returns to Marion

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DUNK: Marion Police Department patrol officer Joseph Biddle closes his eyes as he hits the water on Tuesday during the National Night Out festivities.
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TOSS: Ajax Dulhanty, 7, throws a direct hit at the dunk tank. Although it hit the target, it took a few tries before the lever plunged the officer into the water below.

by James Ehle - jehle@chronicle-tribune.com

The City of Marion Neighborhood Associations (CMNA) turned the spotlight on first responders, city officials and people involved with neighborhood associations for the National Night Out (NNO) held Tuesday night.

The event at 5th Street Commons celebrated members of the community who work behind the scenes to improve the city and neighborhoods of Marion.

“If we don’t recognize that and celebrate it, then sometimes it goes away,” CMNA Coordinator Kayla Johnson said. “Or the negative surfaces, and we don’t realize all the positive that’s happening around us.”

Although this wasn’t the first NNO celebration for the city of Marion, it was the first city-wide NNO event in nearly 20 years. A few neighborhoods observed the event on a smaller scale in past years, but Johnson and other members of the NNO Committee decided it was time to bring the community together on a larger scale.

The goal of these conversations is to break stigmas and build trust between Marion residents.

“We’re normal people. These are our jobs,” Marion Police Department (MPD) officer Max Fischer said. “I have no problem talking to anybody anytime. I guess there’s a stigma where people are scared of us, and we’re trying to qualm that.”

Attendees were given blue light bulbs in an effort to thwart criminals from breaking into residences that are well-lit. Plus, the color blue was chosen to show the home’s solidarity with police.

People who came to the event could also take house numbers with them to make their homes easier to find for first responders.

“If the community can do a better job with that, it can really help us respond quicker and in a timely manner,” Fischer said.

The giveaway is part of Project 365, a year-long community challenge by The National Association of Town Watch (NATW). Marion neighborhoods have chosen to promote turning on more porch lights and displaying more house numbers over the next 365 days.

“We know criminals are less likely to go to an area where porch lights are on,” said Linda Wilkes of the Garfield Neighborhood Association. “Let’s see how many residents we can have with blue light bulbs across the city.”

MPD and the Marion Fire Department (MFD) brought fire trucks and police cars for people to explore. A dunk tank was set up where kids and first responders shared laughs every time a rookie patrolman was dunked.

The fun environment is an effort to make the first responders more approachable, where the community is encouraged to ask questions and interact.

Residents who were unable to attend the event are encouraged to participate Project 365 by the City of Marion Neighborhood Association. Any leftover blue light bulbs will be distributed to people who ask.

“They need to get involved with their neighborhood association,” Wilkes said. “So contact City Hall, talk to Kayla, to find out what association they’re in.”

According to NNO’s website, 38 million people attend the events nationwide from 16 thousand communities. 2019 marks the 36th year for the national event.

Johnson was encouraged by the community response to the first city-wide NNO event in Marion in years and hopes to bring even more people working behind-the-scenes to the forefront next year.

“It’s exciting to have the first one under our belt,” Johnson said. “I think there’s more we can do to try to get more groups that are working behind the scenes that aren’t just our first responders or neighborhood associations.”