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WATERLOO, Iowa --- It shouldn't take a tragedy to pull residents together, according to Richard Christie.

He is the grandfather of 5-year-old Evelyn Miller, who disappeared from a Floyd apartment July 1, 2005. She was found dead in the Cedar River days later, and the slaying remains unsolved.

National Night Out is intended to strengthen bonds with neighbors. Nine neighborhood associations in Waterloo marked the annual crime prevention initiative Tuesday. A celebration also took place in Cedar Falls.

“If you see something that shouldn’t be, you have to let the police know,” Christie said. “You can do that anonymously with (Cedar Valley) Crime Stoppers. You don’t think those things can happen to you until they do.”

The Cedar Knoll Neighborhood Association, a first-time participant, offered ice cream and brownies. Each of the community’s nearly 300 mobile homes received an invitational flier.

Christie, president of the year-old group, collected names, addresses and phone numbers of interested participants. Everyone is considered a member, as no application process or dues are required to join.

The group addresses crime, makes sure tenants know pet rules and works to strengthen relationships with the owner of the park, which recently was sold. A liaison officer with the Waterloo Police Department often attends meetings. Christie and his wife, Linda, have lived in Cedar Knoll about three years and are seeing progress.

“We used to have a lot of teenagers walking through the area at night, and that’s just about stopped now,” Christie said. “It’s being aware. There used to be a lot more vandalism out here. We’re working on trying to fix the lighting system so that we don’t have dark spots.”

Across town, the boing of dribbling basketballs, pop off tennis rackets and children chattering continued to ring through Highland Park two hours into the event. An estimated 60 to 70 people, including members of the City Council and ambassadors from the Greater Cedar Valley Chamber of Commerce, gathered for the official grand opening of a new tennis court and basketball court, a more than $90,000 project completed at the end of June.

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Dave Will, a tennis coach at Columbus High School, and volunteers with Leisure Services helped lead kids in contests and activities. Deontaye Wright, 10, said he had met several new friends.

“All I played was tennis,” he said, grabbing a hot dog and watermelon before heading back to the court.

Highland Neighborhood Association president Joyce Ankrum said the event is an easy way to get to know people in the area and make connections.

“In this day and age, we’re very focused on staying inside our houses, doing things by computer, embracing technology, so people don’t necessarily get out and meet their neighbors as much,” Ankrum said.

Erin Tink called the east-side area “a hidden gem” and likes being able to put faces with houses.

“There are so many historical homes in the neighborhood and so many cool projects people are up to,” she said.

Plus, she learned about other pregnant neighbors. She and her husband, Jesse, have Jude, 2, and are expecting another child in October.

“I like the community feel and the fact you know your neighbors are watching out for your kids,” she said. “I think it makes me feel safer and just grateful. It’s just cool to live around people you would call friends.”

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