A Night of Community: Hancock County’s Community Night took over the fairgrounds with free items, information, activities and safety demonstrations

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By Elissa Maudlin

HANCOCK COUNTY — At the entrace of the fairgrounds, a white truck’s lift stretches towards the sky. A little further in, a large half circle of people — kids and adults — watch as a K9 and police officer perform a demonstration. Near the back, people tour an army vehicle and a colorful bouncy house overlooks attendees, along the outer perimeter.

This was Hancock County Community Night on Wednesday, July 27.

“ … Most kids don’t have a lot of interaction with public safety,” Greg Duda, Hancock County Community Night committee member, said. “ … the interaction with police officers and firefighters in a safe, fun setting is really what this event is all about. It’s about building those relationships and public safety coming together to give back to the community that stands behind and takes care of us.”

Duda said “Everyone was really pleased” with how the event went and estimates about 3,500 people were in attendance.

At the registration booth, Alexa Selimovic and Tina Emsweller greeted families and gave them their passport of what’s going on. Attendees were also given a bingo board, with places for organizations to stamp, to be entered in a raffle.

Kay Wallace, a 911 dispatcher, stood at a booth under one of the shelters. With a “grab the duck” number game, she wanted to talk with parents about Smart 911 and said this event gives a voice to 911 dispatchers, who are often “looked over,” and shows that the people citizens don’t get to see are there for them.

The fire department had a smoke trailer at the event, where kids could practice getting out of a building with smoke, Steve Cropacek, fire marshal of Greenfield, said. They also conducted a burn demonstration with a door closed versus open.

Other demonstrations of the night included K9 drug dog/criminal apprehension, SWAT team high-risk traffic stops, fire department vehicle extrication and fire department rope rescue. Sergeant Aaron Davis and others showcased a combat army vehicle at their booth, with a gun mounted on top that could be controlled from the inside.

Community Night featured activities like face painting, a bouncy house, safety checks for car seats and free car seats and food. They also had non-profit vendors and related professional organizations at booths, giving out information about their organizations.

“We have so many amazing organizations and very helpful organizations and sometimes people just don’t know who they are or where they are … ” Amanda Everidge, at the Healthy365 Connection Center table, said. The organization handed out Support Navigator cards, a mental health resource packet guide and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Under a different shelter, Annie Wetli and Emma Levstek sat, representing Agape Therapeutic horseback riding. Phil McNealy handed out safety supplies for parents to childproof their homes at the Firefly Children and Family Alliance booth, previously known as the Children’s Bureau.

The Community Health Network Behavioral Unit booth sat three women, one of which was Margaret Madden who said she enjoys the event because she gets to network and see what other vendors are offering, as well as enjoy the energy of the community.

“You have no idea how many resources are over here,” Nana Essien, an attendee of the event alongside her children Madelyn and Frankie, said, “so just to come see everything and then see everybody’s smiling face [is why this event is important].”

Kelly Groom and Jinnene Orman came to this event for the first time this year. Seventeen-year-old Vivian Hoover and 15-year-old Catie Coy sat with Groom on the floor at one of the shelters with Orman close by.

“Nowadays, you don’t see a whole lot of people getting together and helping each other,” Groom said, “and this is just a big opportunity to see what is there.”

Hoover said the event can also help people with different issues in their lives, who may then get courage to talk about those hardships if they get information from the booths.

“Those who don’t know what is around, this gives them the resources they need to find the help that they need or want,” Coy said.

Vivian Coonce, one of Hayley Coonce’s four children, said her favorite part of the event was a certain type of school supply — the free backpacks. Duda said they gave away 650 backpacks and slingbags at the event. One of the people handing out these backpacks was Victoria Parker, a family case manager with the Department of Child Services in Hancock County.

“DCS is all about helping families,” she said, “so this is a great way for DCS to connect with families in Hancock County and just give back.”

The Coonce family has come to the event the last couple of years, Hayley said, and she believes help from the community while the economy is “in a weird place right now” is nice.

“[Community Night is] super cool,” she said. “We don’t like to miss it.”

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