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Brooke Poklemba, right, with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, entertains 2 year old Noah Campbell of Charles Village with a squirrel hand puppet during a National Night Out event on 23rd Street and Calvert Street in Baltimore on Tuesday. National Night Out, celebrating its 28th year, is a drug and crime prevention event with participating communities all across America.
Brooke Poklemba, right, with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, entertains 2 year old Noah Campbell of Charles Village with a squirrel hand puppet during a National Night Out event on 23rd Street and Calvert Street in Baltimore on Tuesday. National Night Out, celebrating its 28th year, is a drug and crime prevention event with participating communities all across America. (Staff photo by Brian Krista)

Joining Charles Village's National Night out Against Crime in Calvert Street Park on Aug. 2 was former auto mechanic Darren Cole, 41, who lives across the street and hasn't been able to work since a car on a lift fell on his head.

Cole keeps busy fixing sweeping the sidewalks in his block and repairing children's swings in the city park, at 23rd and Calvert streets.

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He is thrilled that the park has a playground. But he noted that late at night, it's not children who populate the playground, but groups of unsavory teens and young adults, some in their 20s.

He said they're the reason he and his wife had to repair the swings.

"We did it for the community," he said.

Cole was one of 50 people at the park, one of four locations in Charles Village that staged anti-crime events Tuesday.

He said he was glad for the chance to talk about his concerns as a resident, "mostly about safety and the children" to the city officials and police at the event.

Several political candidates showed up, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and one of her opponents in the upcoming Democratic mayoral primary, Otis Rolley, the city's former planning director.

Odette Ramos, who is running for City Council, also was there.

Also out in force were supporters of Jason Curtis, who is running for the same seat as Ramos.

Rawlings-Blake presented a certificate of appreciation to the Charles Village Community Benefits District, which co-sponsored the National Night Out event along with the Baltimore Police Department.

The events in Charles Village and other National Night Out events citywide came on a day the Senate voted to raise the nation's debt ceiling and cut more than $2 trillion in federal spending.

That could deny cities millions in funding, forcing them to raise taxes or cut funds for services such as public safety.

"I think all of us are holding our breath to see what the impact is going to be," Rawlings-Blake said.

But there was little to fear on a sunny evening in the park, where organizers cooked burgers and hot dogs, served ice cream, raffled off free bicycles and encouraged citizens to help police curb crime.

"These are the kinds of events you beg for," said William O'Donnell, a Charles Village community officer for the city police department.

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The nearby Baltimore Child Abuse Center manned a table of literature and a Safe Kids Club coloring book. Statistics suggest that one of every four girls and one of every seven boys in the country will be abused by age 18, and that the average age when a child is abused is 8, said Brooke Poklemba, prevention coordinator for the center. She said the center is trying to get the city public school system to include child abuse education in its curriculum as early as first grade.

Dick Cook was eager to come to the National Night Out to show his community spirit and concern about crime.

"It's a perfect excuse, and food to boot," he said.

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