Community support can be difficult to find, but easy to notice through the senses: the sound of children laughing. A neighbor firing up the grill. A bounce house filled with parents and grade schoolers.
Tuesday evening, the East Chattanooga Youth & Family Development Center kicked off the city's 21 installments of National Night Out, an opportunity for residents in a variety of neighborhoods to interact with local police, firefighters and community leaders.
The countrywide program, now in its 30th year, aims to bridge gaps between citizens and those on whom they rely.
"I love walking into a room and seeing the police officers we have here dedicated to helping our city, and individuals who say they know how important it is to accept being part of the solution," Mayor Andy Berke said to a gymnasium filled with 150 parents, children and volunteers.
"You sitting here, members of our community, you're part of that solution, too."
The evening on Dodson Avenue focused on the musical talents of youths. The Tyner Marching Band performed pop and classic hits with a full performing ensemble, as well as routines by the ICYA Broncos Cheerleaders.
Shay Smith, a recreation specialist for the city, spends a large amount of her social life mentoring middle-school age kids at Tyner. One of "her kids" wants to be a drum major, and she pulled friends aside to watch the Tyner band.
"I don't have any kids, so that's what I call them," Smith said. "I take them everywhere I go, even take them to get jobs. Whatever it takes."
Carol Gilberts, a volunteer for the Battery Heights Neighborhood Association, has assisted with the development center in its four National Night Out installments.
"People here in this neighborhood need to know we're here for them," Gilberts said. "It's that simple. If we can't find an avenue for help, we'll find people who can."
Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6592.