By Celia Belmonte
FAIR HAVEN – National Night Out, now in its 10th year, was not only full of laughs and fun but it was also an important chance to raise awareness about safety.
The three-hour event, that kicked off at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7, brought children and their parents together with community organizations at the Youth Center fields behind police headquarters.
Organized and run by the Fair Haven Police Department, National Night Out was a true community effort. The borough fire department, first aid squad and Fair Haven PTA not only donated their time but also sponsored fun activities for the kids.
Red Bank also held a National Night Out event.
Children jumped inside a bounce house, tried their luck at carnival style games, tested their arm against a radar gun at an inflatable speed pitch tent and helped send Fair Haven Mayor Benjamin J. Lucarelli under water at the dunk tank.
“The dunk tank is our staple,” Patrolman Stephen Schneider of the Fair Haven Police Department said. “We always put a police officer in there. The major got dunked at least 10 times.”
Carlie Jakub, a Fair Haven mother of five, values the town’s emphasis on safety. “I tell my 9-year-old, ‘You have soccer practice, get on your bike and go,’” Jakub said. “Where else can you do that?”
With kids ranging from age 5 to 12, Jakub also loves Fair Haven’s strong sense of community. “A friend of my mine said to me once ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child,’” Jakub said. “I feel so confident that there are so many people here that know my kids. Fair Haven is just such a great place to raise a family.”
A true neighborhood event, National Night Out also was an opportunity for residents to show their admiration for the borough.
Trudy Wojciehowski, first lieutenant line officer for the first aid squad, has lived in Fair Haven for 20 years. “I love Fair Haven. Everybody knows everybody,” Wojciehowski said. “You go to the Acme for one thing and you are there for an hour.”
Most importantly, the children became acquainted with the important lessons of the night.
Resident Sunny Skarecki, 10, brought along her friend Ajahnay Hampton-Davis, 10, of Long Branch.
“I like the helicopter,” Sunny said. “I got to look inside.”
“I want to win the helmet in the raffle,” Ajahnay said.
The police department’s Schneider, who has been in charge of the event for the past three years after taking it over from Sgt. Sherri Lambert, garnered several sponsorships for the event’s much-anticipated raffle.
“Target is the official corporate sponsor of National Night Out everywhere,” he said. “I was actually able to get them last year and they were gracious enough to come back to our small town. Being only 1.65 square miles, it is great.” Target donated four bikes, including two Schwinn bikes for the raffle while Toys “R” Us contributed numerous toys and Staples provided all of the signage.
“Everything here is completely free,” Schneider said.
Umberto’s Pizzeria, a Fair Haven staple now in its 27th year of operation, handed out free pizza inside the Youth Center. “Things like this event are very important to the community,” said Mary Fabbri, owner of Umberto’s. “This is about awareness and also for kids to know that there are businesses that they can run to if there is a problem. Fair Haven is a small close-knit town. We try to take care of our own.”
Other local restaurants also showed their support. Tavolo Pronto handed out cookies while J. Rooster’s gave out free drinks. Two River Computer contributed a Kindle Fire, Boynton & Boynton Professional Insurance Agency gave away two iPod Touches and several banks, including Rumson-Fair Haven Bank & Trust, PNC Bank and TD Bank, provided gift cards.
The goal of the police department was to not only entertain the children but to also educate them. “It is a night out against crime and drug prevention,” Schneider said.
Two dogs, Evan of the narcotic detection team and Ari of the tracking/patrol team, from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office’s K-9 Unit were on hand for demonstrations.
MONOC Paramedics’ MedEVAC air-medical transport helicopter, which services Monmouth and Ocean counties, touched down on the Youth Center fields and remained there for over an hour. Youngsters were allowed to peek inside the helicopter and check out its advanced equipment before it lifted off and headed to Manalapan.
For Schneider, National Night Out’s success is a tribute to the teamwork of the town’s dedicated members.
“Fair Haven is a great, tight-knit small community, which has very strong ties to community service,” Schneider said. “I grew up in Brooklyn until I was 13 and I’ve lived in Manalapan, Jackson and now Freehold. The camaraderie, the neighbors, the environment here is completely different. It is really a great community.”