Aiken celebrates National Night Out at Perry Memorial Park
Aiken residents swarmed Perry Memorial Park on Tuesday night, played some competitive kickball, hung out with horses and got familiar with the city’s first responders.
Tuesday was National Night Out, a country-wide celebration focused on community building, interaction with local law enforcement and getting to know one’s neighbor.
The Aiken Department of Public Safety brought fire trucks and a cop car to the park. Children climbed all over both, and Lt. Karl Odenthal was one of the in-car guides.
“This helps us see the same side of things,” Odenthal said, motioning to the roughly 50-person crowd that had gathered. “Usually, you feel better about somebody when you know who they are. It’s about relationships.”
Jimmy Carter, a longtime Aiken resident, said he came out to the park for the exact same reason.
“I wanted to support the community, support the kids,” Carter said, making his way over to a cluster of horses that had been brought out for the event.
Carter engaged the horses – despite his initial reserve – and said he was excited to see them because “we’re a thoroughbred city.”
Public Safety Chief Charles Barranco was also at the makeshift horse pen.
Between speaking to attendees and petting the odd horse, Barranco described why he felt National Night Out – the city’s first – to be so important.
“We thought it was an avenue to bring all the facets of our community together,” the chief said. “It’s invaluable. … We want people to understand what we do and trust us.”
Barranco said it was important for people to see police “beyond” just an emergency call and for police to know who they’re responding to and what they’re responding for. Odenthal put it succinctly: “We’re all people.”
National Night Out in Aiken was capped with a competitive kickball game featuring local leaders and surprise guests. Snow cones were handed out by the dozens, and the weather was more or less cooperative. Members of the Parks and Recreation Department were also on hand.
National Night Out is celebrated by 16,000 communities, according to the campaign’s website, and has been going on for 35 years.
Similar events were held in Graniteville and Beech Island with the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.