Hundreds of area residents turned out at three Martinsville churches Tuesday for fun, food, music and fellowship on the 31st National Night Out.
Martinsville Police Officer Coretha Gravely, who helps organize the event and oversees 49 area Neighborhood Watch groups covering 72 streets, said National Night Out is about giving residents an opportunity to build a relationship with local law enforcement so that they can work together to oppose crime.
The police “can’t do it all,” Gravely said. “We have to have input from the community to help us ... to stand behind us and report it when they see crime occurring in the neighborhood.”
Nobody knows a community better than the people who live there, Gravely said, and letting police know when something out of the ordinary happens in a neighborhood helps the police tremendously.
New Martinsville Police Chief Sean Dunn said that although Tuesday’s event was his first National Night Out in Martinsville, he always participated in the event during his law enforcement career in Portsmouth.
“I’m very familiar with National Night Out and the good it does for police and community relations,” Dunn said. “It’s all about the relationship of the police department and the community. The police department can’t be successful without the community. These types of events are a strong reminder to everybody, police, community — and the criminal element — that we’re strong, we’re standing together, we’re a united front against crime.”
Dunn said he was impressed by the turnout and number of activities available at the three participating churches in the city: Agape Bible Christian Fellowship, 240 E. Market St.; First Baptist Church of East Martinsville, 1043 E. Church St.; and McCabe Memorial Baptist Church and Refuge Temple Ministries, 107 Clearview Drive.
Pastor C. Lee Hagwood of Agape Bible Christian Fellowship said a lot of work goes into National Night Out each year. Agape’s festivities included inflatable bounce houses for kids, singing, music from the Virginia All-Steel Orchestra, a flag presentation by the Martinsville-Henry County Honor Guard and plenty of home-cooked food.
“We’ve got fine citizens in our community that want to look out for one another,” Hagwood said. “This is a great social mixer ... getting people out of their houses, out of their communities, to come together at a larger venue where you can have interaction. What does it better than food and fun? ... Hopefully it will be the beginning of building some significant relationships.”
Minister Tamika Hairston of First Baptist Church of East Martinsville echoed Hagwood’s statement.
At the event, Hairston said, she told the attendees that “it’s good to live beside each other and to pass each other in the grocery store, but we want you all to be able to fellowship, to be able to put a name with the face. To be able to shake hands and be able to come together and just know who lives among you, who’s in your community. ... I challenged them to introduce themselves to someone that they didn’t know.”
At First Baptist, attendee Veronica Dancy, who has been coming to National Night Out events since the beginning, said she enjoys the music and fellowship, “coming together (and) seeing faces that you haven’t seen sometimes in over a year.”
At McCabe Memorial Baptist Church, Pastor G.H. Vaughan said he was delighted that his church was able to serve as a site to bring people together in the community, and he is grateful for everyone who comes together each year to make National Night Out happen.
“We leverage relationships because we want to build relationships with people in the community,” Vaughan said, “so that they know that they have a friend and they have a place they can come. It’s a good opportunity to work with the police department and the sheriff’s department.”
Skeeter Joyce, who helps organize the event at McCabe, said McCabe has been holding National Night Out events since 2007.
“Coretha (Gravely) had asked us to have it here at this location, because of the exposure and because it’s centrally located,” Joyce said. “You can’t say no to Coretha.”