An estimated 200-plus resident of the Grier Heights community turned out Tuesday evening for National Night Out – America’s Night out Against Crime.

Aside from the food and drinks, residents competed in hula-hoop contests, laughed with their neighbors and took turns dousing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers in a dunking pool.

National Night Out began 26 years ago as a way for community watch groups nationwide to focus on crime and drug prevention.

Still considered one of Charlotte’s most dangerous communities, Grier Heights has seen crime rates recede, resident said, thanks to a stronger police presence and a coalition of churches and nonprofit groups working to rebuild some of the worst parts of the community.

“We’re trying to change the perception of this community, and it’s happening,” said the Rev. Donnie Garris, senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, one of several churches working in the Grier Heights neighborhood.

Last June, members of Myers Park Presbyterian Church, working with the CrossRoads Corporation for Affordable Housing and the Self-Help Community Development Corporation, began buying some of the community’s most dilapidated homes that had become magnates for crime.

The houses were razed and the land eventually will be used for new low-income housing.

Eleanor Bartley, who helped organize Tuesday’s event, said this year’s National Night Out was the biggest and best so far. Corporate sponsors donated tents, the dunking pool and prizes, she said.

The event was held at the Grier Park Apartments, and residents from the surrounding community were invited to come in.

“It’s just been a wonderful event to put together,” she said. “The idea was to make it more community and bring unity.”

CMPD officer Dan Kellough, community coordinator for the Grier Heights area, said the community is unique because of the many partnerships between residents, police, churches and nonprofit groups.

“You can just look around and get the feeling that they take their community very seriously,” he said.

Photo below: Grier Heights residents gathered Tuesday to celebrate National Night Out. Although still battling crime and poverty, residents and police say the community has made gains. (Photo: Qcitymetro.com)

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