Neighbors connect at block parties

FROM?LEFT?TO?RIGHT: Virginia Salter, Brenda Hector, Crime Prevention Officer Erica Franz and Ronita Jones enjoy an evening of story-swapping and conversation at a National Night Out neighborhood party in front of Hector's house.<BR><I>Staff photo by Erin Mills</I>

Justin and Leah Follett have lived in their?Hermiston home for four years, but some of their neighbors were virtual strangers until Tuesday night, when they put on a National Night Out block party.

"My mom always hosted a night out party, so I thought maybe I could, too," Leah Follett said.

The couple sent out invitations and Justin, who helps run Follett Smoked Meat, smoked a whole pig. They were a little worried no one would show up, but then people started trickling in, potluck dishes in hand.

"They just started coming out of the woodwork," Justin Follett said.

Soon they had a crowd, and the block in front of their house, which the Folletts had closed to traffic, was filled with people chatting and kids running around.

Rebecca Boothroyd chased her busy 14-month old daughter, Mikiah, and said she remembered her mom talking about the days when neighbors always knew and looked out for each other.

"It's nice that we're trying to bring it back," she said.

People were having similar experiences at block parties throughout Hermiston. Other Eastern Oregon towns held a single party in a central location, but Hermiston's event remains a neighborhood affair.

As the night progressed, police officers and emergency personnel visited each party - that is, before lightning sparked several fires at the Umatilla Chemical Depot.

"The fire department came, but then they turned around and left," Boothroyd said.

Karla Frasser, another neighbor of the Folletts, was also eager to get to know the people who live around her - recently, someone opened her mail and scattered it on a neighbor's lawn. The neighbor gathered the mail and brought it to her, warning that checks were stolen out of mailboxes in the area before.

"He was kind enough to come to my house ... It's good to know we are watching out for each other," she said.

On West Pine Avenue, they've been having a block party since National Night Out began in Hermiston 11 years ago. Many of the neighbors have lived there for 30 years, so those who attended the party were well acquainted.?

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