Communities come together to promote safe neighborhoods
There were no bad guys in sight when Wesley Chapel families joined representatives from law enforcement, fire and emergency services, area businesses and volunteer organizations Tuesday, Aug. 2, at the Target parking lot for the town’s second annual National Night Out – a nationwide program that has promoted safe neighborhoods for 28 years.
“Last year we had over 250 people,” said Tessie Morris, who chairs the town’s Safety Committee and organized the event, which included the Wesley Chapel Fire Department, Union EMS, the Union County Sheriff’s Office and its Explorer unit – which fingerprinted children as part of its program to keep families safe – several state troopers, Haley Bennett – who offered free face painting for children – and Sangrock Black Belt World performing martial arts demonstrations.
Last year more than 38 million people participated in National Night Out in 15,000 communities across the country and at U.S. military bases around the world.
“Wesley Chapel joined National Night Out as a community that’s engaged,” Mayor Brad Horvath said. “Our population is almost 7,500 now; we’ve tripled in size in 10 years. We’re fortunate because Target is a national sponsor and they’ve offered this space for this event.”
Target has been in Wesley Chapel for three years and promoted the event on its national website.
“It’s a big event for the community, law enforcement, fire and EMS,” said Erin DeForge, asset protection manager for Target. “It helps us build a better relationship with police for when I need them.”
“It’s really all about safety in the community,” Horvath said. “People should be able to get together and feel safe.”
Horvath was joined by council member Kim Ormiston, who walked around handing out water, talking with citizens and asking them to sign up for the town’s e-mail list to be alerted to community events as well as any community alerts. “We’re excited to offer this as a free event,” Ormiston said. “A lot of places charge for entry.”
Jeff Kuopus of Court Square watched the karate demonstration by Sangrock from the cool shadow of the Target building with his wife, Lisa, and daughter, Haley. The family has lived in Wesley Chapel for 10 years, and attended last year’s event. “We see sheriff’s cars out here all the time, which is nice,” Kuopus said. “We feel safe here.” Commenting on the development they’ve seen since moving here, and the crowd at the event, Kuopus remarked: “It makes you wonder what it’s going to be like in 10 more years.”
Mary Thompson and daughter Amber from the Stonegate subdivision said this was their first time at National Night Out. “We moved here a year ago from Birmingham,” Thompson said, “and we love this community.” Thompson was especially impressed with the EMS and fire personnel supporting the town. “We visited the fire station with my nephew the other day and Jimmy (Kubach, assistant chief for Station 31) spent time with our kids showing them the truck and the station.”
Captain Michael Sullivan of Fire Station 26 manned Ladder 26 at the event, explaining to visitors how the platform and other equipment worked. With a 104-foot reach, Ladder 26 is one of only two trucks in the county with a platform. “This truck responded to the Griffin Motor Company fire in Monroe a few years ago,” said Sullivan, who has served with the department for seven years. He explained that Monroe bought its own platform truck after seeing it perform. He said the Wesley Chapel department, which normally covers 40 square miles of territory, could use it to respond to fires in large buildings like Target as well as assist other departments. Sullivan said the town was building a new fire station, which would be finished sometime in the middle of January, complete with sprinkler system and sleeping quarters that will allow firefighters to man the station overnight.
“We’ve got a lot of people from the community here, including EMS and the Fire Department – it’s a good event; it is every year,” said Sheriff Eddie Cathey, who helped kick off the festivities before heading to other events in the county. “The shopping center plays a big part in allowing this to go on,” he added.
Norcott D’Esterre, assistant shift supervisor for Union EMS, worked with Jess Krause, a new paramedic, to provide tours of their ambulance and explain their emergency capabilities. The two were on duty and stationed themselves at the edge of the celebration in case they were called out. “We have 12 units that cover the county and we rotate areas week to week,” D’Esterre said. “So we get to know the whole county.” He said he had recently seen a plaque in a community behind the McDonalds on Highway 74 in Monroe claiming it was the first location for National Night Out.
“It’s nice for these guys to take time out of their busy day for this,” said Wanda Bonilla, a teacher at Marvin Academy who has lived in Wesley Chapel for seven years. “This is family friendly. It’s nice that they let the kids explore the vehicles and learn about their community helpers.”
Bonilla said she had seen several students from her camp at the event, which underscored a lesson they’ve been learning. “We’ve been teaching them about the people in the community who help us,” she said.