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National Night Out spurs community development

For hundreds of people in Duluth, Tuesday was a night to join together and enjoy perfect summer weather while making new friends and developing a sense of community. The 24th annual National Night Out proved a big success, with more than 30 Dulut...

For hundreds of people in Duluth, Tuesday was a night to join together and enjoy perfect summer weather while making new friends and developing a sense of community. The 24th annual National Night Out proved a big success, with more than 30 Duluth neighborhoods and more than 150 Minnesota towns participating.

"[National Night Out] helps develop the feeling of community and neighborhood," said Nan Asperheim, a resident of the Endion/UMD-Chester Park neighborhood. "It is one night when we can all get together."

That's important, said Steve Grindy, also a resident of the Endion/UMD-Chester Park area. One of the most significant parts of the night is the networking that comes from it.

A few years ago, that networking came in to play on Halloween night, when youngsters from another part of town stole bags of candy from neighborhood children. Word quickly got out and soon adults were stationed at most street corners, watching out for the children, Grindy said.

National Night Out was started in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch, a nonprofit crime prevention organization, as "America's Night Out Against Crime." Since then, millions of people have gathered. Gatherings across the nation and the globe -- U.S. armed forces stationed abroad participate -- raise awareness for crime, drug and violence prevention and strengthen neighborhood spirit.

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On Tuesday, it was obvious that the main reason people were coming out was for fun.

"We met last week with the police department," said Mona Cheslak, president of the East Hillside Community Club, who was at a gathering at the Grant Community Recreation Center. "We just like to party on this night."

And party they did, with games and activities for children, live music and a potluck-style barbeque. But that wasn't even the best part for Cheslak. Her favorite part of the day was seeing the diversity of people who showed up and met one another. Mayor Herb Bergson and St. Louis County Board Commissioner Dennis Fink were among the attendees.

While some people start the night as strangers, Jennifer Bragg, an East Hillside resident, believes that the event provides everyone with a unique opportunity to change that.

"[National Night Out] is the perfect excuse for me to say, 'Hi, I live four houses down and my name is Jennifer.' "

That's exactly what Charlie and Mia Peterson did. They just moved into the Endion/UMD-Chester Park area about four months ago and were eager to make new friends.

"It's been a nice neighborhood and we are really happy to meet everyone," Mia Peterson said.

Even residents who have lived in their neighborhoods for years were finding themselves meeting new people.

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"Even though I have lived here for six years, we are all working and don't go out in winter, so it's nice," said Cheryl Wasmund, another neighborhood resident.

While the event only lasts a few hours, the residents who participate know the long lasting effects.

"I so love my neighborhood," said Melody Morrell, an East Hillside resident. "People actually look out for your kids, your house ... and [National Night Out] is the one day of the year when everyone comes out at the same time."

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