BAYONNE, NJ - Tuesday’s National Night Out in Bayonne packed dozens of activities and safety lessons into a two-block stretch of Broadway, including the chance to climb on a Coast Guard boat and firetruck, giveaways, and demonstrations.
The annual event, held in communities across the country, is meant to raise awareness about crime and safety. It also brings first responders together with residents to get to know each other.
National Night Out originated with the National Association of Town Watch, a group founded in 1981 to assist local community watch groups. NATW began holding the National Night Out against crime in 1984, encouraging residents to keep their porch lights on as a show of strength.
Over the years, communities began holding fairs in conjunction with the event.
In Bayonne, the celebration ran from 21st to 23rd Street on Broadway. The streets were filled with tables, emergency vehicles, and four bounce houses.
“It’s a great event,” said Police Chief Robert Geisler, who chatted and shook hands with many of the attendees. “It brings us and the community together and lets us put faces to names.”
Kids talked with members of agencies ranging from the U.S. Border Patrol to the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office.
Also present were social service agencies and organizations ranging from the Bayonne NAACP to Women Rising, a countywide group that fights domestic violence.
One community member who raised awareness at the event was Pam O’Donnell, whose husband Tim, a local coach and teacher, was killed by a drugged driver on the New Jersey Turnpike in February of 2016. The couple’s 5-year-old daughter Bridget or “Bridie” was also killed in the crash.
On Tuesday night, O’Donnell was there with an organization she founded, Catch You Later, to raise awareness about driving under the influence and distracted driving.
She oversaw a mini-obstacle course and “drunk goggles” meant to simulate what a driver perceives when his blood alcohol level is over the .08 percent legal limit.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing to get the community together to interact with first responders,” O’Donnell said of the night.
She said the community had been rallying around her cause, with Bayonne high school students recently filming public service announcements about distracted driving.
“A lot of times I get, ‘I’m so sorry. I remember your husband. Thanks for doing what you do,’ ” she said speaking of the positive response and support she has received from the community.
Fire Official Robert Bielan stopped by to don the goggles, and didn’t fare better than other wearers, clumsily navigating the small course.
“You hit a kid on a bike,” O’Donnell informed him as he stepped on an image.
“It’s a great day for all people to come out to support the local police and firefighters and EMS,” Bielan said. “We all come out to give back to the community.”
Third grader Ryleigh Lynn wore the drunk goggles and described her eyesight as “blurry.” She much preferred trying out all the four bounce houses, she said.
Her mother, Jaime Lynn, who grew up in Bayonne, said she thought the Night Out was important, especially in light of national news about tensions between police and residents.
“I think it’s a great night,” she said. “We need it now more than ever.”
The event was hosted by the Bayonne Police Department and the Bayonne Urban Enterprise Zone/Special Improvement District.
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