A triumphant return

The Fox Chase Town Watch Na­tion­al Night Out was held Aug. 6 after a one-year hi­atus. It’s the largest event of its kind in the North­east, and one of the largest in the city.  

  • John Duffy, the Town Watch vice president and former National Night Out committee chairman, is greeted by one of dozens of well wishers who lined up to say hello. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • Riley McVey, 6, opted for a 15-second face stamp rather than a five-minute makeover. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • State Reps. Kevin Boyle (left) and Brendan Boyle co-sponsored the event, which returned after a one-year absence. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers greeted the crowd and thanked the firefighters who attended the event. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • A community celebration: The Vanderslice and Corson families, (from left to right) Patrick, 4, Bethann holding Emma, 6 months, Jacob, 6, Grace Corson, 4, Mike and Hannah, 2, enjoy the National Night Out festivities in Fox Chase on Aug. 6. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

The an­nu­al Na­tion­al Night Out ob­serv­ance rep­res­en­ted a renais­sance in more ways than one for Fox Chase this year.

Co-sponsored by the Fox Chase Town Watch, along with state Reps. Kev­in and Brendan Boyle, the Aug. 6 com­munity fest­iv­al re­turned to the school­yard at Fox Chase Ele­ment­ary after a one-year hi­atus. Mean­while, Town Watch mem­bers and neigh­bors wel­comed the re-emer­gence of long­time com­munity ad­voc­ate John Duffy sev­en months after a stroke threatened the be­loved loc­al fig­ure’s life.

“John Duffy is an amaz­ing per­son. … He’s got such strength. He looks great. It was such a pleas­ure to see him to­night,” said Phil­adelphia po­lice Capt. Joe Zaffino of the 7th dis­trict as more than 500 adults and chil­dren strolled the school­yard, sampling free­bies from al­most 50 vendors and schmooz­ing vari­ous pub­lic of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the Boyles, oth­er state and loc­al law­makers, po­lice and fire­fight­ers.

Duffy, the Town Watch vice pres­id­ent and former Na­tion­al Night Out com­mit­tee chair­man, reveled in the at­ten­tion giv­en him as the guest of hon­or. Now con­fined to a wheel­chair, he greeted a pro­ces­sion of pals who brought him words of en­cour­age­ment and thanks for his many years of ser­vice.

“It’s great get­ting [this event] back to­geth­er,” Duffy said. “We used to use it as a tool to bring new mem­bers [in­to Town Watch] and it worked. We’re go­ing to try it again.”

Na­tion­al Night Out was foun­ded and is pro­moted across the United States and Canada by the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Town Watch. But it’s up to in­di­vidu­al com­munit­ies to or­gan­ize their own ob­serv­ances. Fox Chase began do­ing it in 1995, one year after a gang of sub­urb­an youths chased down and beat neigh­bor­hood teen Ed­die Polec to death on the front steps of St. Cecil­ia’s church.

Duffy was there from the start and led the event’s growth in­to the largest of its kind in the North­east, and one of the largest in the city. Hun­dreds, per­haps thou­sands, of folks routinely at­ten­ded as re­cently as a few years ago. But the eco­nom­ic down­turn and de­clin­ing vo­lun­teer­ism un­der­mined the ef­fort, even­tu­ally prompt­ing the Fox Chase Town Watch to can­cel its Night Out fest­iv­it­ies in 2012.

“We wer­en’t get­ting the sup­port and the school [dis­trict] was giv­ing us a hard time” about us­ing the school­yard, Duffy ex­plained.

On the heels of that set­back, Duffy suffered a stroke at his home on Jan. 3. Thanks to ex­tens­ive and on­go­ing re­hab­il­it­a­tion, along with modi­fic­a­tions to his house, he was able to re­turn home for the first time on Aug. 2. He wouldn’t want to live any­where else.

“The com­munity is great — a lot of friends, a lot of neigh­bors, a lot of good friends,” said Duffy, who said he plans to re­sume his vo­lun­teer­ism, des­pite his new phys­ic­al lim­it­a­tions.

“He has served as a great ex­ample for the com­munity and his ded­ic­a­tion to the com­munity is re­cog­nized by every­one,” Rep. Kev­in Boyle said. “Every­one re­spects what he’s done.”

Pub­lic of­fi­cials view Duffy’s work and that of oth­er neigh­bor­hood ad­voc­ates as vi­tal to the vi­ab­il­ity of a com­munity.

“[They] have such an in­flu­ence on their neigh­bor­hoods. And Phil­adelphia has good neigh­bor­hoods be­cause we have good act­iv­ists who care about their neigh­bor­hoods and are will­ing to give hours in sup­port of their neigh­bor­hoods,” Rep. Kev­in Boyle said. “Every good, nice neigh­bor­hood you see in North­east Phil­adelphia, I think you see a fairly sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber of com­munity act­iv­ists who work with their elec­ted of­fi­cials to get things done, to get events like this done.”

The quant­ity of in­volve­ment can vary, but the key is qual­ity, ac­cord­ing to Zaffino.

“I don’t think [Duffy] ever missed one of my meet­ings, wheth­er it was my Town Hall meet­ings or the civic as­so­ci­ations. He was there for everything,” the po­lice cap­tain said. “I re­mem­ber that me, John and [Com­munity Re­la­tions Of­ficer] Rich­ie Si­mon would sit at my Town Hall meet­ing and we would be the only three people there, but we would sit for an hour. But John nev­er, ever failed to show up.

“He’s a test­a­ment to the fact that you don’t even have to be healthy. If you saw what he went through … and he’s still will­ing to come out here and help us out.” ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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