Everyone currently at the first National Night Out location that the first responders attended, joined the police and firefighters and the Comfort Dogs for a group photo.

National Night Out is a community-police awareness-raising event in the United States, held the first Tuesday of August.

The event has been held annually since 1984, and is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch in the United States. National Night Out began simply with neighbors turning on their porch lights and sitting in front of their homes. The first National Night Out involved 2.5 million residents across 400 communities in 23 states. National Night Out 2016 involved 38 million residents in 16,000 communities across the United States.

The event is meant to increase awareness about police programs in communities, such as drug prevention, town watch, neighborhood watch, and other anti-crime efforts.

The events are typically organized by block watches, nonprofit organizations, companies, and police departments. These events can be as simple as backyard cookouts or as complex as full-blown festivals with live music, food, and entertainment.

In some neighborhoods they have cookouts, live music, dancing, and visits by police officers, fire fighters, and paramedics with safety demonstrations, exhibits, and projects for all residents.

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, first responders began their evening with a visit to a private residence on Willow Street.

“This is the fifth year we have done this,” said home-owner and host Jason Rakzuska. “Every year it gets bigger and we (he and wife Tiffany) enjoy hosting it. We do this to support the police department, the fire department, and all the first responders. It is our way of saying thanks and getting the community together. Tiffany and I are VIPS (Volunteers in Police Service) and this is another way to volunteer our time.”

Steven McElroy and Libby Robertson are handlers for Comfort Dogs Kye and Bekah of Immanuel Lutheran Church.

“We just like to be out in the community,” said McElroy. “We go to so many disaster areas and handle so many tragic events; we just like to do fun things like this every so often. It reminds us that not everything we do starts and ends with tragedy.”

Fire Chief Shawn Shadle said, “The Belvidere Fire Department always likes to be involved in any community event to show that we care about being a part of the community. It is beneficial for the firefighters to interact with the community when it is not an emergency. Our normal routine sees us interacting with members of the community on some of the worst days of their lives so socializing in this fashion is beneficial for the firefighters mental and emotional well-being as well.

“I want to thank Tiffany and Jason for honoring the first responders by hosting an event like this and thank you for supporting the community as VIPS as well. What makes Boone County great is that the community supports each other and gives back.”

“Events like this,” said Belvidere Police Chief Shane Woody, “Are opportunities or first responders and the community to come together and enjoy some good food, enjoy some good fun and games, and get to know each other during a time that is not fraught with terror. Tiffany and Jason are great examples of the type of citizen that Belvidere and Boone County have come to enjoy as representatives of good neighbors.”

Each year, the hosts plan the event around a theme. In the themes have included “Jail” and “The Wild West.” The theme this year was “Breakfast” with everything from scrambled eggs and pancakes to bacon and sausage, fruit, orange juice, and milk.

“Thank you to Jason and Tiffany,” said Deputy Chief Matt Wallace. “It is nice to be appreciated and supported by the community.”

Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest had this to say about the 2022 National Night Out: “It’s awesome! Tonight we have multiple events to try to get to. This community is what it is all about. We have been working on having community watches for years. This brings everyone together. You gotta know your neighbor.

“This is the part of the job that is fun. We are very blessed in Boone County.”

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