Zion Sanford, 12, plunged headfirst into the large yellow and blue Slip 'n Slide Tuesday and zipped into the fourth National Night Out of his young life.
The event at the Boys & Girls Club in the Jordan neighborhood of north Minneapolis was one of 1,400 block parties aimed at preventing crime and drug abuse in the Twin Cities.
Also known as Night to Unite, the program is celebrated in all 50 states on the first Tuesday of every August. Locally, it's grown to include parades, festivals, cookouts, inflatable water slides, magicians, clowns and elaborate block parties -- all in the name of fighting crime.
This year, communities are trying to address new and troubling issues in their neighborhood -- whether it's promoting city health initiatives, talking about home burglaries or finding relief from the effects of the May 22 tornado that devastated north Minneapolis.
"It's very important to do things like this to get to know what's going on in our community," said Marcus Zackery, area director for the Boys & Girls Club. "Whenever there's a storm, you can tell people don't want to come outside and people are suffering from post-traumatic stress, so there's a greater need and I think it will make participation in National Night Out even better."
Because of the heat and a recent thunderstorm that knocked down trees outside of the club, organizers held it inside for the first time.
The kids sang, danced, played inside of a bouncy castle, ate hot dogs and burgers and had their faces painted, while parents talked to one another about neighborhood safety.
Jennifer Waisenan, a crime prevention specialist for the Jordan, Folwell and Cleveland neighborhoods of north Minneapolis, said there was one block in Folwell that would not be participating because of the tornado.
"There's nobody on the block, really, and they're all trying to get their neighborhood back together," said Waisenan.
Waisenan said that the Jordan neighborhood has seen improvement in recent years, in keeping with the citywide trend of declines in serious crime. Most complaints to the police department involve street-level narcotics, burglaries, loitering and nuisance, she said.
"[National Night Out] gives people in the community a chance to take back their neighborhood and send a message that we're not going to let a few people ruin it for us," said Albert Greene, program director of the Jerry Gamble Boys & Girls Club, which has participated in the event for the past decade.
Last year, San Antonio beat Minneapolis for the No. 1 spot in National Night Out participation for large cities, according to the National Association of Town Watch's rankings. Minneapolis, which has led cities with at least 300,000 residents for seven of the past nine years, was second. St. Paul placed first in the midsized city category, and six other cities in the state earned spots on the list.
At least one neighborhood in Minneapolis is participating in the event for the first time. In Armatage, where there were 36 organized events, there are also leaders on nearly every block of the neighborhood.
The 6000 block of Morgan Avenue S., which recently formed a new block club, will recognize National Night Out for the first time.
"Last week, we had four garage burglaries and we're trying to get residents to lock their garage doors because it's a crime of opportunity," said Jennifer Swanson, a block leader in the Armatage neighborhood, who said the goal this year was to improve safety by increasing communication and getting more blocks organized.
The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office was promoting prevention of medication abuse.
It planned to have representatives at more than 70 events in 22 communities, including Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Greenfield and New Hope.
In Dakota County, where the health department had planned to provide CPR training to 20 blocks this year, the event has continued to grow in popularity.
In Eagan, the event grew from having 20 blocks participate in 1998 to 192 in 2010.
"It's amazing how it's evolved over time," said Thomas Vonhof, Lakeville's police chief.
Lakeville held 15 to 20 parties during its first event 20 years ago and now has more than 75 registered events.
Tasnim Shamma • 612-673-7603 Twitter: @TasnimS