Hundreds of volunteers welcome thousands of East Portlanders – to neighborhood block parties!

See how on just one evening in August, an event that started out promoting crime-prevention turned into a celebration in neighborhoods all over outer East Portland. Are you in one of these 30 fun photos?

Games for kids, like here in Knott Park, are typical activities at National Night Out events.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
What started as a way to get neighbors to talk over issues of crime and drug prevention, has turned into a City-wide opportunity for building community: It’s called “National Night Out”.

On August 2, more than two dozen outer East Portland parties celebrated the annual opportunity for neighbors to get to know one another, and interact with police officers, firefighters, and crime prevention coordinators – all while enjoying picnics, street parties and large-scale events in neighborhood parks.

As in past years, we planned a route, and did our best to visit as many NNO events as we could, throughout outer East Portland. We found “National Night Out” is very alive and well. Take a look …

Stop #1: Glenfair Park

This group of volunteers from the Gateway Target store pitches in at Glenfair Park, to help make the event fun and festive.

As the NNO parties were starting to get underway, we encountered a half-dozen volunteers – all dressed in snappy red T-shirts, blowing up balloons, getting food ready, and helping the organizer prepare for the event.

“Many of the area’s Target stores help out at their neighborhood’s National Night Out parties,” said Krys Jeffrey from the Gateway store. “We want to support the community in which we do business. We have a great time coming out, enjoying the people and the weather, and helping neighbors.”

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Sgt. Wendi Steinbonn finds giving out sticker badges to be a good way to make lots of young friends.

Organizer Brenda McSweeney and volunteer Bette Twist say they’re ready for another great NNO party in the Glenfair Neighborhood.

“The best thing about holding NNO parties,” exclaimed organizer Brenda McSweeney, “Is how it brings families out to enjoy a fun time. I especially like seeing the kids come out and have fun with all the activities and games we’ve set up for them.”

With a mighty heave, Portland Parks & Recreation staff members Brittney Blodgett, Erin Byerly, and Cortney Hoffman start to lift one of the giant, inflatable “Movie in the Park” screens up for the evening’s show at Glenfair Park.

After an afternoon of pizza, games, and family fun, Glenfair’s NNO party ran well into the evening, with a Movie in the Park presentation. “We’re thankful to have the support of so many volunteers, sponsors, and the financial assistance of East Portland Neighborhood Small Grant Program funding,” McSweeney said.

Stop #2: Wauna Vista NNO Block Party

-6 Volunteers Joan Walker and Shirley Walker check in guests from the greater Centennial neighborhood to their super-sized block party.

It started with a few families, but in this, their third year, organizers of the Wauna Vista NNO Block Party in the north part of the Centennial Community Association say they invited their entire neighborhood to attend.

“We do it to bring our community and neighbors closer together,” said co-organizer Steve Tolvstad.

Steve Tolvstad and Mike Walker say they enjoy hosting National Night Out events for their neighborhood.

Wauna Vista volunteers Clint Elliott and Tom Walker cook up a storm!

“I believe that it builds a neighborhood camaraderie,” said his partner and neighbor, Mike Walker. “It a kind of communication that brings neighbors closer to each other. Here’s a good example: We just put on an emergency and disaster preparedness program. We had a good turnout of the neighbors, because many of met at previous NNO events.”

When we remarked that they looked relaxed, considering the size of event they were putting on, Tolvstad remarked, “All the hard work is done. Now, we get to sit back and watch our neighbors – their families and kids – have a good time. We’ve got clowns, bounce houses, good food, and good plain fun.”

Richard Arnold and the Groove Swingers entertain at the Wauna Vista street party.

The organizers said that many volunteers helped put on their party, and they appreciated the backing of an “East Portland Neighborhood Small Grant Program” grant to fund this year’s neighborhood-wide party.

Tolvstad, Walker, and the dozens of families who participated seemed to enjoy one another’s company, as their live band played until well after the sun went down.

Stop #3: Lincoln Park

From face painting to crafts, the first-ever Lincoln Park NNO event provides family fun, just south of David Douglas High School.

At SE 135th Avenue and SE Mill Street, in the shadow of the David Douglas High School campus, a brand new NNO party was getting underway.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to build some neighborhood connections this year,” said its organizer, Jessica Pederson.

Jessica Pederson and little Dabria welcome neighbors to the Lincoln Park NNO party.

“We’ve had some incidents at the park this summer that haven’t been very positive. But there are a lot of positive things that do happen during the day – it definitely is a community and family park, during the day.”

Asked why she took it upon herself to register and plan the event, Pederson replied, “I wanted to see if we could make stronger ties between neighbors, to help them be aware of what’s going on at all hours.”

Neighbors Adam Carlson, Candi Bielman, and their respective families, say they’re glad a NNO event was organized close to their homes.

“And, as you can see, we have lots of fun – tons of kids hear tons of things happening.  It’s really nice to see everybody come out and get together,” Pederson pointed out.

Stop #4: Knott Park

In Parkrose Heights’ Knott Park, that great classic rock band Cheap Date entertains.

When their NNO organizer of several years stepped back, some folks thought there might not be an event for neighbors of Parkrose Heights Association of Neighbors (PHAN) this year.

But, judging by all the activity in Knott Park, it was clear that someone stepped up to take on the job; and it turned out to be Allison Newman-Woods.

PHAN NNO organizer Allison Newman-Woods spends a moment with Stephanie and Alexander Viegas Dias.

“I was on the PHAN board back when my children were really little,” Newman-Woods explained. “Then I got really involved with the Parkrose School District. Now that my daughter’s graduated, I decided to come back onto the neighborhood association and help out.”

United Church of Christ help the Parkrose United Methodists Church men’s group, as together they serve hundreds of hot dog dinners to hungry guests in Knott Park.

While Newman-Woods signed the paperwork, she was quick to say, “Stephanie Viegas Dias – the person who’s headed this so well for so many years – is really the main organizer. And, she is fabulous. I’m just helping out! Again this year, Stephanie is the one who has really done a tremendous job with this NNO event.”

Does the bright red shirt look familiar? It’s another Target store volunteer – this time from the Cascade Station location – Lindsey Webb – who’s spending the evening doing face-painting.

The best part for her, Newman-Woods said, is seeing her neighbors coming together. “It’s a great reason to see neighbors you haven’t seen in awhile; a great time to meet new neighbors. Community events like these keep neighborhoods strong, and improve livability. That’s what we all want, in our neighborhood.”

Stop #5: Lents Park

Its nothing complicated at the Lents Neighborhood NNO celebration: Folks come by for an old fashioned ice cream social!

As they have for decades in the past, folks from all over the Lents area met at the Lents Park picnic tables to partake in ice cream sundaes.

Judy and John Welch scoop ice cream for neighbors in Lents Park.

“It’s always a great time to get neighbors together for National Night Out,” said its perennial organizer, Judy Welch.

“What’s better than an ice cream social?” Welch continued. “It’s not as big an event as some neighborhoods hold, but it certainly is fun for everyone who comes out to be with us.”

Lents neighbor Ray Hites looks as if he’s enjoying his ice cream sundae.

Stop #6: Earl Boyles Park

Who wants a turn in the bounce castle? From a look at the line, it appears to be a very popular attraction at Powellhurst-Gilbert’s NNO event.

Organizers of the Powellhurst-Gilbert National Night Out celebration took their party seriously, when they planned an evening of fun. It included lots of kids’activities, community information booths, live music, free hot dog dinners – and the evening ended with a Movie in the Park presentation.

Two of the several Powellhurst-Gilbert National Night Out organizers, Donna Dionne (standing) and Debby Smith/Rohmbock, give out gifts at the prize table.

Portland Fire & Rescue Engine 29’s Lt James Conant declares a youngster an “Honorary Firefighter”.

One of the organizers, Donna Dionne, manager of Love Boutique, and also an active member of the Midway Business Association, was on the run as she helped the party run smoothly.

“In addition enjoying seeing everyone having fun,” Dionne said, “Having a healthy neighborhood helps businesses do well. I volunteer with our neighborhood and business associations for the same reason: I want to change things for the better. Some people sit around hoping things will improve. But, you have to be willing to get involved, to have positive things happen in the community.”

Volunteers Anthony Pham, Judith B. Glad, and Mary Walker provide guests with neighborhood information packets.

While the trio “Moonlight Mile” plays on stage, guests take advantage of the shade of  the “Movie in the Park” giant screen.

Neighbors coming together, getting community and public safety information, and having fun, is what’s important to another co-organizer, Tom Barnes.

“I’m glad the turnout is just incredible. So far we’ve had about 400 people show up, and we haven’t even started the movie yet. This wouldn’t be possible if not for an East Portland Small Neighborhood Grant, plus the help of our volunteers and many sponsors.”

Stop #7: Portland Adventist Academy

Again this year, Portland Adventist Academy hosts a NNO party for their Hazelwood neighbors.

For the fifth year in a row, Portland Adventist Academy hosted a NNO event on their spacious campus just west of Adventist Medical Center.

“We do this for the neighborhood, because it seems people are getting busier and less connected with one another,” explained Liesl Vistaunet, the school’s PR person.

The Portland Adventist Academy’s mascot cougar gives a “thumbs up” to event organizer Liesl Vistaunet, for producing another great NNO event.

Great tunes from the past fill the air, when Jack Mahoney’s “Plus Five Trio” plays.

“The more people get to know their neighbors, and get out and enjoy each other’s company,” Vistaunet said, “ The more they care about their neighborhood, and the less likely that they are to have crime problems, graffiti problems, and all that stuff. It’s really important to know your neighbors.”

Her favorite part of NNO? “I love seeing all the families get together here. I love seeing the kids enjoy the grilled corn, snow cones, and have a fun time.  It warms my heart.”

Stop #8: Mill Park Neighborhood

As the sun sets, Mill Park neighbors settle down for conversation as their NNO street party winds down.

As darkness falls, we find our way to SE 113th Avenue and SE Yamhill Street to check on the Mill Park Neighborhood’s annual block party.

“We had more kids than we’ve ever had in the past,” observed burger chef and organizer Todd Baker.

Mill Park NNO organizer Todd Baker says he’s glad he successfully roped his buddy, Karl Moody, into helping out at the grills again this year.

“It was great to have a fire truck and the police come by. And, we had a really good turnout here this year. We cooked up 100 hamburgers and 125 hot dogs to feed a record crowd that I estimate at 150 people.”

Making new connections continues to be what Baker says he enjoys the most about their annual National Night Out affair. “Every year we meet more neighbors. Our guitarist has lived here for several years, and we just met for the first time! NNO really does bring folks together.”

Mill Park neighbor Luke Merriam gets drawing tickets from Bill Bailey.

As darkness fell, some National Night Out events were winding down, but others were continuing into the evening. If you haven’t been to your neighborhood’s NNO party, mark your calendar right now – it’s always on the first Tuesday of August.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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