By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — The annual Niagara Falls Block Club Council Crime Night Out event is held in an inner city neighborhood where residents meet and greet various branches of local law enforcement and government and have the opportunity to learn about various services available in our community along with some fun things for children as well.
This year in the Highland-Centre Avenue area we were fortunate to have the Niagara Falls Housing Authority as a partner as they literally let us take over their corner resource center building for the evening. When my contact Angela Smith said the “building is yours,” I found out she meant it. We were able to use the space inside for the Masonic Lodge Safety ID Program where they interviewed the neighbors and produced laminated identification cards which included photos and fingerprints free of charge.
While waiting their turn for their ID, they encountered Sharon Mentkowski of the Buffalo office of the FBI who was set up in the hallway with a life size cutout depicting a “FBI Wanted” poster. The kids had fun sitting behind the hole and having their cell phone photo taken. This was not the usual “Wanted” poster you sometimes see in the post office as it pertained to drug free kids, “still growing, with clear eyes and ‘criminal record? — No Way’.” Fingerprints were lined up along the bottom and they were described as someone you could “approach anytime.”
Across the street in the park area the bounce house was a big hit as usual. The Kiwanis Club of Niagara Falls provided funding for the unit and their volunteers, Laurie and Candace kept things orderly. Laurie told me later that it was fun for her as the kids were precious. The little ones asked “can you lift me in?” and some wanted a hug. Many were wearing the t-shirts provided by the sheriff’s office with funds from the Niagara County Drug Task Force. Couldn’t be put to a better use I say. Back for his yearly engagement was Joe Russell, our roving magic act. He could be seen with a group of youngsters around him “making magic.” No matter how many times I watch his act I still do not know how he does those tricks.
Hot dogs were cooked by Hyde Park West Block Club President Roosevelt Bradberry and his brother Paul. The “dogs” were served with chips and drinks by Wrobel Towers River Rapids Block Club President Jennie Johnston and Truman Wall. Earlier they were presented the “Block Club of the Year Award.” Helping them were Hyde Park East block club members Mary Lawton and Lina Voutour.
Each year Mae and Betty of Tennessee Avenue Block Club distribute the STOP Crime t-shirts I mentioned earlier and Patti Frederick and the Tonellatos from the East Side Block Club gave out some back to school items. Al Hornung, the Falls Fire Department safety educator brought the Fire Safety House and was also busy all evening teaching kids how to escape from a burning house. Al received the Block Club Public Safety Partner of the Year Award. On a personal basis, Al is indispensable to me as he can always be called upon to help me out in all of my volunteer efforts. That includes the NBC Beautify Niagara event as well as this one. Al has a personality suited to all ages and this makes him perfect in his role as a fire safety educator. We are fortunate to have him.
Inside the big tent were some of our regular nonprofit service agencies offering information on everything from available health services and County Sheriff Victim Assistance and Traffic Safety programs, to services provided by our City DPW Department, the Catholic Charities, the US Border Patrol and many others too numerous to mention in my available space. But I cannot leave out the Target volunteers led by Team Leader Jordan Gilmore. A strong supporter of Crime Night Out, each year they provide a bicycle and two backpacks by way of a free raffle. They brought a big team this year and could be seen in their red shirts distributing Target logo items and the raffle tickets.
Another group of regulars were the NF Corps of Cadets, 3rd Reg. who were presented the Youth Partner of the Year award. These young people “presented the colors” and led the Pledge of Allegiance as they do each year and at our Flag Day ceremony as well. The final award of the evening, our Law Partner of the Year was presented to Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante. Assisting Block Club Council President Roger Spurback in the presentation to Mike were Sheriff James Voutour, Deputy Police Superintendent Carl Cain and First Assistant U. S. Attorney J. P. Kennedy. They all related how he has transformed from a criminal defense attorney in private practice to the top prosecutor in the county without skipping a beat. I could see we made a wise choice as his peers in law enforcement had many kind words and paid a professional and personal tribute to him.
There were lots of cops around mixing with the families and speaking to the kids. Cain gave a moving talk aimed at youth in the community and our Mayor Paul Dyster related stories of brave citizens and city workers during the previous Friday storm. The humidity broke out into a heavy downpour as the evening ended and me and Roger, Patti and our NU friend Dave Taylor huddled under the remaining tent until the crew took it down and it was time to go.
Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.