While attendance was down from last year at the first cookout of the summer in Atlantic City to promote a safer community, those who came out in the heat said it was fun and informative.

Firefighters at the recreation complex next to the Chelsea Heights School offered children some relief from the heat by spraying water from a hose in the back of the field. They were hooked up to a hydrant just outside the fence.

In addition to a bounce house and the chance for children to explore police equipment, the fewer than hundred adults present were given the opportunity to receive job training and advice in classrooms at the school.

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The information sessions are an addition to the events and were created by this year's organizers, the Coalition for a Safer Community. The coalition is a spinoff of the Stop the Violence group that initiated the cookouts last year to address violence in Atlantic City and Pleasantville.

This year the coalition, a countywide organization, plans three cookouts, as opposed to the five last year. Officials last year estimated as many as 2,500 people attended the 2012 cookouts.

This year's organizers added information sessions, which define the theme of each event. Tuesday's was job training. The next event will be at New York Avenue School from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. July 30 and will address family issues. The last event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 24 and will focus on mental health and other health issues.

"Last year was a jumpstart to introduce the community to this type of annual event," Ken Flood, principal of Chelsea Heights School, said at Tuesday's event. "Last year the focus was on violence, this year it is how to help" by realizing that the members of the community serve as an additional resource in encouraging a safe community, he said.

Resident Luis Matos, 43, said he is glad the events are held because it is a great way for him to get information "straight from the horse's mouth. Not sugar-coated like you get in the news."

Matos also expressed a desire to be more in touch with the politicians in the city.

"Now it seems like they are here just to show face, just so that they don't look bad. But when they leave it's like 'oh, forget about these people.' Why don't we see you at other times?" he said.

Those attending expressed support for a safer community and in general had fun with the available activities, but they noticed there was not a large turnout.

Pleasantville City Council President Judy Ward, who was a co-emcee of the event, said she was disappointed that more residents from her city did not show. She said it could have been due to the heat and will see who attends the next cookout.

Derek Cason, who is involved with the Coalition for a Safer Community and was the other co-emcee, said the promotion for this year's series of cookouts began much later in the summer compared to last year.

"Last year, the cookouts came as an offshoot of the Stop the Silence videos. As we were making the video we tried to figure out a way to unite the community. As we were doing the movie, people kept asking, 'Why can't I talk to the police? Why don't I know who they are?'" Cason said.

Dewane Parker, head of security for the Atlantic City School District, encouraged residents to approach officers of the city's Police Department or county Prosecutor's Office if they have any tips, and said they could remain anonymous.

"The purpose of this is to stop the violence. We are all coming together and bonding together to say no," Parker said. But, "you don't have to talk about crime (to the officers). You can talk about football."

The school district has played a key role in helping to organize and host the cookouts, which all take place in or near an Atlantic City school.

The event last year also was geared toward easing tension in the communities between Atlantic City and Pleasantville, and still remains the goal of the coalition, but the Pleasantville representation was limited Tuesday.

According to Perry Mays, who heads the coalition, the cookouts are geared toward including both cities and include the mayors and police departments of each city.

Nan Peterson, who lives in Northfield but is originally from Atlantic City, said she thinks that the adults play a key role in helping to curb violence in the area.

"Until we all come together and be accountable and responsible adults, we will continue to have crime in the neighborhoods, because no one will tell on anybody," Peterson said.

Police and the Prosecutor's Office have seen a steady stream of anonymous tips come in during the past year, acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said at the event.

The Atlantic City Police Department's bomb squad, SWAT truck and motorcycles were at the event, along with the city's firefighters and Atlantic County Toys for Kids.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:


Follow Anjalee Khemlani on Twitter @AnjKhem

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