John Rieping/The Madera Tribune
Madera Mayor Andy Medellin signs a proclamation declaring National Night Out during the kickoff event Tuesday evening in front of the Madera County Courthouse Museum as officials standby.
Thousands of Madera residents, area law enforcement and government officials braved the evening heat this week for National Night Out parties, which were block-wide Tuesday and city-wide Thursday at the Madera District Fairgrounds.
Around 40-50 block parties were held Tuesday across the city, and New Harvest Christian Fellowship may have hosted one of the largest ones with two huge inflatable slides, a large potluck and barbecue, snow cones, popcorn, live music and a fire engine. Pastor Tim Echevarria said church members “chipped in” to make it all happen.
“It’s been doing something beautiful within the community and also within the church too,” said Echevarria, who is also a Neighborhood Watch commander in his own neighborhood. “So I love it. It just keeps getting bigger every year for us too. It’s a beautiful time for outreach (and) to connect.”
Those in the area were initially wary of hanging out with law enforcement and other officials for National Night Out, he said, but they came to embrace it and realized “they’re there to help you. They don’t want to lock you up … They care. It’s been really a blessing for us.”
Maggie and Matt Stickler, who moved into their historic home three years ago, started hosting a National Night Out block party in 2016 in an attempt to better know their neighbors.
“Ever since last year’s National Night Out, we’ve all met as neighbors about 10 more times,” Maggie Stickler said, “and we’ve actually started to get to know each other a lot more … We tell each other, ‘We’re going out of town. Can you please watch the house?’ So it’s been kind of great.”
Fourth Street Church of God in central Madera likewise hosted its second block party this year. The church became a meeting place for Neighborhood Watch meetings two years ago “because it’s the most well lit place at night around here,” said party organizer Mike Farmer, who is also a Neighborhood Watch commander for his own home area. “(We’re) trying to be a light to the community.”
National Night Out is a great opportunity, he believes. “It’s fun just setting, visiting and chilling with each other and getting to know each other,” he said. “I think the more you get to know each other the more you’re looking out for each other.”
He has definitely seen a change in the area over the past couple of years. “(I was) just talking to one of the neighbors here and, since we started the Neighborhood Watch program, things are a lot quieter in this neighborhood.”
Retiree Alfred Rodriguez has hosted his local block party in northeast Madera every year since National Night Out started in Madera as well a second one in the spring. “It’s real good to see the neighbors and the officers come out,” he said. “This house is a safe house. When people have problems, they know they can come here and we can get law enforcement involved. They can come here when there is trouble.”
Leticia Vargas, a Neighborhood Watch commander in northeast Madera, hosted her third National Night Out party this year, and thrilled visiting law enforcement and city officials with her party’s bacon-wrapped hot dogs and jalapeno nacho chips. Children in turn eagerly explored a fire engine and Madera County sheriff deputy and Madera police cars.
National Night Out has been “very useful for the community,” she said in Spanish. Before she knew her neighbors “but they didn’t talk with each other. Now they do. So if there are any problems, they talk to each other and can let each other know if something is going on.”
City Councilman Will Oliver, who visited six block parties Tuesday, called the work of Vargas and her family with Neighborhood Watch a “great example” of good that is happening in Madera. Thanks in part to the active watch team there, her area now has solar-powered street lights, paid for by grant funding that the city obtained.
“I think this is a night to celebrate the city of Madera and all that’s happening here that’s positive,” said Oliver during National Night Out.
Amy Varney organized a block party for The Well church at Lincoln Elementary School in western Madera. She thinks it’s “so awesome” to see people get to know and watch out for each other, and it’s also “a lot of fun.”
“For us to come together and share a hot dog, dunk somebody in the dunk tank, it’s a great evening,” she said. “We’ve had an awesome turnout. We had more than last year. Everyone is looking forward to the event, even next year.”
Tyler Takeda and Viviana Cadena Rieping contributed to this article.