DERRY — All across the nation, families gathered for a big night out.

And this night — National Night Out — was not only fun, but also an important effort to bring awareness to communities about drug prevention and safety, and to help strengthen neighborhood spirit and police/community partnerships.

In Derry, families gathered in MacGregor Park on Aug. 6 for the weekly summer concert along with activities, games, dancing, face painting and a chance to meet police officers and fire officials.

The Derry effort was a joint effort between police and fire departments, and the town's recreation department.

Sue Centner, executive director of Community Alliance for Teen Safety, said Derry hadn't had a National Night Out in many years.

"It's wonderful," Centner said. "The community gets to have conversations with law enforcement."

Police officers Jeff Pike and Erin Sullivan were the driving force bringing the night back to Derry, Center said. Pike and Sullivan are part of the department's Community Relations efforts.

For Pike, the night meant new information, new faces, and a chance for families and children to meet law enforcement officers they see regularly around town.

"It creates a good rapport with the community," Pike said.

In addition to the music on the park stage, children enjoyed photo opportunities with McGruff the Crime Dog and Sparky the Firefighting Dalmation, both making an appearance in the park.

"It's the first time they've met each other," said fire department Lt. Michael Stanhope, adding the National Night Out was a great way for both fire and police departments to join together to support efforts to keep neighborhoods safe.

This year, Derry joined National Night Out events planned in several communities throughout New Hampshire including Auburn, Nashua, Salem and Seabrook.

National Night Out organizers expected more than 16,000 communities and 38 million people nationwide to take part in community events this year.

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