OAKLAND -- Jenny Zhen lives in a neighborhood east of Lake Merritt, where many Asian people don't get to know their neighbors because they don't speak English.
Jenny, 11, speaks English, along with three dialects of Chinese.
Over the last week, the sixth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary School made it her mission to inform more than a dozen Asian neighbors about her block's first-ever National Night Out party Tuesday. Many of the people she talked to were reluctant, Jenny said, feeling that coming out at night would put them in harm's way.
"I told them if they come out, it's to get to know each other so we can be safe and help each other," she said.
Her mission was successful. A few older residents, including Ngoiek Wu, were at the barbecue and block party outside their 34-unit apartment building on East 23rd Street and 10th Avenue. Jenny lives across the street with her mother and father.
The event on East 23rd Street was one of a record number of National Night Out parties -- about 560 -- held Tuesday in Oakland. Many more took place in cities all over the Bay Area. The idea behind the 28th National Night Out is to draw people out of their homes to meet their neighbors and community leaders. If you know your neighbors you might be more likely to report a suspicious person in their yards or an unfamiliar car parked on the street, organizers said.
Launched in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch, a crime-prevention nonprofit organization, National Night Out is intended to raise awareness about crime-prevention, cultivate support for Neighborhood Watch programs and strengthen the relationship between residents and law enforcement.
Getting residents involved in crime fighting is considered especially important right now. In Oakland, homicide is up by 20 percent and shootings have jumped 30 percent compared with this time last year, police said.
Felicia Verdin, community programs supervisor for the city, said many parties were repeats from last year, but there were new ones as well, such as the gathering at Acts Full Gospel Church, where police Chief Anthony Batts stopped by Tuesday night. Last year, about 450 National Night Out events were held in Oakland.
Ethel Myers, who organized the East 23rd Street party, said she was thankful for Jenny's assistance. "She has been excellent as far as being able to talk to neighbors," Myers said.
"We tried to incorporate everyone."
Residents said Tuesday's party strengthened an already solid bond. One neighbor, Edna Belove, 41, said she was coming home one night about 10:30 when a man grabbed her and held her at gunpoint.
Belove said she called out for a neighbor and, although the man made off with her purse, eight people came to her aid.
"It could have been worse," Belove said at Tuesday's party. "It's good to have good neighbors. I'm glad we're doing this. More neighborhoods should get out and do this together."