Half an hour before the start of Tuesday’s festivities at Downtown Doral Park, hundreds of residents were already out in full force. Many stood in a line that stretched about a quarter of the way around the three-acre park to receive the 500 backpacks the city was giving away as part of the event.
On the southwest corner of the park, multiple generations congregated at the playground; older sisters pushed their little brothers on the swing while grandma kept an eye out. Next to the playground, young children crawled, tumbled and ran through a makeshift obstacle course while volunteers cheered them on.
The event, coordinated by the Parks & Police 4 Kids Foundation, a nonprofit city initiative, combined two events from last year that were previously separate – National Night Out and Back to School Night. National Night Out is an annual community-building event meant to educate residents on issues regarding public safety and build trust between residents and their institutions.
“By combining both events we can prepare families for back to school season while equipping them with beneficial tips on crime watch and public safety for all ages. Additionally, Parks & Police 4 Kids Foundation strives to provide child welfare and family services to the community to ensure children are healthy, safe and active,” said Doral spokeswoman Maggie Santos in a written statement.
The event turned out about 2,000 people, more than double the expected attendance. Members of the city council, including Mayor Luigi Boria, who helped hand out backpacks to the children, as well as local businesses and organizations also took part in the event.
“It’s great,” said Doral police Neighborhood Resource Officer Luis Martinez, who helped put the event together. “A bigger turnout means more community involvement, and the community is essential. Without them, we can’t do our jobs.”
For Maria Blanco, a Doral resident since 2007, these opportunities to interact with the community set Doral apart from other cities as a place to raise her 4-year-old daughter, Gabriela Ascanio.
“I love the recreational aspect of the city. I have friends who live in other parts of Miami, but they don’t have parks where they can take their kids to play,” said Blanco, 34. “I plan on having another baby, so I plan on taking advantage of it even more.”
Downtown Doral Park, located directly across from City Hall, sits in the heart of the development that will make up Downtown Doral. Towards the south of the park is a complex of luxury condominiums, to the west a construction crane near Northwest 87th Avenue and 53rd Terrace currently overlooks the park.
In the past year, the city has approved two more new parks: Doral North Park and Northwest 114th Avenue Park. As budget season approaches, the city has placed a special focus on developing it’s parks and recreation infrastructure.
Parks and Recreations Director Barbara Hernandez believes that events like these are important in executing the city’s goals.
“It builds community,” Hernandez said. “People get to know their neighbors in a different setting. One of our main goals is getting people together and helping them enjoy their leisure time.”
Directly to the west of the park, the street lined with vendors. Carolina Ale House brought chicken wings. Café Domino made espresso. Rey David Delicatessen brought an assortment of sweets and baked goods.
The street was also the site of a demonstration in which a police officer showed off his impressive canine partner – drawing the most attention from the crowd that gathered.
Helen Witty staffed a booth for those interested in information about Mothers against Drunk Driving. Fernando Horruitiner and his son, Gavin, waited for possible new recruits for another year of Cub Scouts.
“It’s a nice thing that we get to do at the end of the summer since school is about to start up,” said Horruitiner, who makes a living as a banker when he is not doing service work for the Cub Scouts. “At the end of the day, it’s about providing activities for the kids and having a good time.”