‘Night Out’ unifies community

Broken Bread Ministries National
Night Out coordinator Wendy Dennis
(left) and Broken Bread Ministries
Pastor Geneva Alston.
A Highland Springs church is trying to spearhead efforts to fight violence and crime within the community. Those efforts were on display Aug. 7, when about 75 residents of Highland Springs gathered at Broken Bread Ministries church for the neighborhood’s fourth National Night Out, presenting a unified front.

Broken Bread Ministries is a small church with an enormous heart, led by Pastor Geneva Alston, who has been with the church and lived in Highland Springs since 1995. Her hope is that NNO will spread knowledge to the community that there are resources available for families in need in order to combat violence and better themselves.

Vendors, live music, food, games, mustang clubs, local law enforcement agencies and citizens of Highland Springs were all part of the effort to show support for community involvement and awareness.

“I have been involved with the NNO for four years,” said Alston. “This is our community, we’ve bought our homes, established ministries and churches and schools and we want people to be comfortable living at home and not worrying about who’s going to kick their door open or stick them up. I just want to spread wisdom and correct some of the things in our neighborhoods.”

National Night Out crime and drug prevention events have been taking place for the last 29 years sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. Citizens, law enforcement agencies, civic groups, businesses, neighborhood organizations and local officials gather to participate in events all across the country.

The neighborhood scout database lists Highland Springs at a 15 crime index, meaning that the area is only safer than 15 percent of the cities in the United States. There is a 69 percent chance of a violent crime taking place in Highland Springs. Nearby Sandston has a crime index of 61, while Glen Allen has a crime index of 45.

Index crimes are determined by eight crimes the FBI combines to produce its annual crime index and the offenses include willful homicide, forcible rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, larceny over $50, motor vehicle theft and arson.

Pockets of Highland Springs have had lingering crime problems. The community includes some subsidized housing units and lower-income areas. Citizens in Highland Springs have been trying to get other nearby neighborhoods and apartment complexes involved in their efforts to subdue crime but have run into roadblocks.

“The only difficulty is some of the apartment complexes won’t allow you to come in and pass out your fliers and they’re the ones that need it the most,” said Alston.

Wendy Dennis, NNO coordinator for Broken Bread Ministries believes the event’s focus should not be only on handling violence but also on putting the entire person back together. That is one of the reasons she invites a wide variety of companies to the table.

“Some of the other churches and other businesses and apartment complexes focus on just the violence but violence is the result of so many other social issues,” said Dennis. “We’re trying to put services together here to bring the family together and branch out and not focus on one specific need. We want to prevent things from happening because it’s a trickle effect. Schools, businesses and families should know that they can come here. Although we are a church, we’re people first, and this can be a safe haven.”

NNO is designed to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, generate support and participation in local anticrime programs, strengthen neighborhood and police-community partnerships and most importantly send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are fighting back. There is currently no Neighborhood
Watch program set up in the Highland Springs area.

Henrico Fire Chief Edwin Smith was at the NNO event along with other local law enforcement representatives.

“We live in this community too; eat here, sleep here and answer the residents’ calls,” said Smith. “So why not be a part of it, because we are just as much invested in this community as everyone else. This gives us an opportunity to talk to people under calm conditions and I like for my firefighters to get out and show support.”

Broken Bread Ministries officials believe that through NNO, the total community is becoming more aware of the issues in the neighborhoods and the resources available to stop them.

The program has proven to be effective as well as inexpensive and members of the Highland Springs community hope that it will promote a safer neighborhood and community involvement that extends beyond the one night.
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