The goal was to get to know each other when Richmond Hill public safety personnel and the general public gathered in a relaxed, backyard BBQ-style atmosphere Saturday.
Family Promise of Bryan County opened its doors to the entire community, complete with free food, children games, facepainting, a water slide, and informational booths.
Richmond Hill Police and Fire departments also had vehicles on display with staff on hand to show off their equipment and chat with kids and adults.
Dubbed the Richmond Hill Community Day Out, local Family Promise network director Candice Fife explained she hosted the event as a replacement for Richmond Hill’s National Night Out.
National Night Out events are traditionally held the first Tuesday in August in cities around the country. The focus is connecting communities with their local public safety officials in a fun, meet-and-greet style.
Fife said the high attendance from out-of-towners mostly led city planners not to have the local event this year.
“The key thing was for them to get to know the police officers and they were working,” Fife said, describing past local NNO events.
Just a talk with the mayor and “it grew into this,” Fife said of Saturday’s event, adding that it also included free school supplies and backpacks.
Dozens of local businesses, organizations, and churches donated food and supplies.
“Everybody came together to help us,” Fife said of the sponsors and volunteers. “And I think that’s what community is. Back in the day they said it takes a village to raise one. Family Promise is bringing that village together to raise our community.”
Some 20 or so people strolled in and out by mid-day for the event that ran from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“This is the first one and I’m looking at the turnout to see. If it works, we’ll do it every year,” Fife said.
Nathaniel Blakley and his family recently moved to the area and heard about the event from a flyer at the Richmond Hill Kroger.
The father and his sons tossed bean bags in a game of cornhole.
“It seemed like a good thing to do with my boys,” Blakley said.
He was also impressed with the Family Promise organization on a national level, referencing his relocation from Alabama. His church worked with that area’s Family Promise and served as a host for families.
“So, I think it’s a great ministry, just to help people get back on their feet,” Blakley said.
Volunteer Deborah McCaffrey could be seen going back and forth throughout the day. She paused for a bit to explain why she participated in the event.
“Just the community outreach,” she said. “It’s not just a hand-out. It’s a hand-up in getting people involved, as well as making sure that people are OK and on their way.”
While Family Promise focuses on the homeless and low-income families, Fife described a larger focus and a message she wanted to communicate with Saturday’s event.
“We’re also here to help community, too,” Fife said. “I want them to know that we’re here, that they don’t have to do it alone. There are resources out here, if you need it. And we will do the best we can to aide them and direct them to the right resource and things of that nature.”
Local middle- and upper-income families may also need help, according to Fife.
“It’s a mixture here. Everybody might need something,” she said.
MLK forum opens conversation about diversity
Family Promise of Bryan County network director Candice Fife also serves on the Richmond Hill Martin Luther King parade committee.
The group is hosting the community’s first-ever MLK parade this coming January with several events leading up to the parade.
Fife and others organized a Teen Forum during Saturday’s Richmond Hill Day Out event.
The forum included about 10 teens, mostly Richmond Hill High School students, and a few adult moderators to spark discussion.
Pastor Daniel Boyd of Emmanuel Christian Church opened the forum, encouraging the teens to discuss Martin Luther King’s dream for equality, what that means and how to advance that in their community.
The teens expressed concern about the lack of diversity in their school, but identified some changes being made. They said they wanted to live in the future and learn from the mistakes of the past.
Boyd said the MLK parade and the events leading up to it are “bigger than a parade.”
“I think this opens up an avenue of conversation, so healing can begin in our community,” Boyd said.