Neighborhood Block Parties: Meeting in the Middle of the Road

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Today’s world, where we are afforded every modern convenience and all the trappings of technology to stay connected, is usually anything but conducive to building real relationships with the people who live around us.  Social media allows us to know all sorts of things about others, but can also keep us from actually walking out the door and truly getting to know our neighbors.

The moments before the click of the garage door opener at the end of a busy day is sometimes the only glimpse I get of my neighborhood. Days fly by with the same routine, and before I know it, another year has passed. I long for the days when neighbors chatted over the fence, kids sold lemonade on the corner, and everyone knew everyone.

Maybe our world has changed over the years, but a true connection with our neighbors is possible. It takes a little planning and a couple of families willing to set a date and spark the idea with the rest of the neighbors nearby.  I recently spoke to Adrian Heim and Sarah Plants, both happily living in a neighborhood where so far 10 annual block parties have been held. They recounted to me the joy of planning one day out of every year that brings with it the nostalgia of the American dream, a day that is referred to amongst their neighbors as “the best day of the year.”

art-0813-b2Adrian has been living in the neighborhood for five years, and has become something of a creative genius in planning the party. One year he rolled out a hundred-foot sheet of heavy-duty plastic on a lawn and made a slip-n-slide of gargantuan proportions. This year’s contribution was a black light system to highlight glow-in-the-dark face painting done by Jeni Borgman, owner of Funny Faces and the newly formed Chico Party Bouncers (a business specializing in bounce house and water slide rentals).

Sarah is one of the original neighbors taking part in planning the event since the beginning. She and other original families provide a perfect balance to Adrian’s creativity by keeping and honoring past traditions. She uses her love for photography to take hundreds of pictures of each event, and makes a memory album every year to commemorate the fun.

Sometimes the group has hired a caterer for their block party, one of their favorites being Ike’s Smokehouse BBQ. Other years a taco truck has come to the event. Potluck dinners have worked well too. Entertainment has included DJs, karaoke systems, bounce houses, inflatable water slides, and an inflatable obstacle course. They’ve had water fights, shown movies outdoors at night, hired live bands, and cranked up a snow cone machine. They even create and screenprint a unique t-shirt for the participants each year.

art-0813-b6Block parties can be held in any season, and have countless possibilities for themes; they can be as imaginative as the planners of the event are to be. I like the way that Adrian and Sarah’s neighborhood has tried-and-true traditions, like the inflatable obstacle course rented yearly from Jump for Joy (www.jump4joytoday.com), but they also add creative new activities each year to keep it interesting and fresh.

When a neighborhood works together to plan, organize, and participate in a day of fun together, so much can come from working as a team. New friendships are forged, old friendships become richer, and the common goals and shared anticipation create a feeling of family.

The focus of a great block party highlights activities with families and children, keeping ages ranging from toddlers to teenagers in mind. Experienced planners share that it’s best if two or three families take on the main responsibility of organizing the overall event, delegating specific tasks to other neighbors. Have a sign-up sheet for food, one for clean-up tasks, and another for entertainment. Set a budget and collect money from participants ahead of time. Call local public works departments or township offices to determine your city’s ordinances regarding noise and regulations for blocking off the street for the event.

During the block party, it’s wonderful to see your neighbors and their children having fun together and connecting on a deeper level. I’ve felt a greater sense of belonging emerge after such a day, and we all seem to care even more about the safety of our children and the well-being of each family.

art-0813-b3Knowing and caring for the families on our block causes us all to look out for the house of the person on vacation, keep an eye on someone else’s kids as they play outside, or even support each other in business endeavors. When illness, surgery or loss strikes one of our families, the rest of us are there to help by providing meals and support. When babies are born or other exciting news is shared, we celebrate together. When neighborhood children grow into great teens, those of us who need babysitters know who to call.

The security and strength of your neighborhood is only as strong as the relationships among those who live there. The ties of community and belonging are treasures that last, long after each child grows up and goes off to college, or after families move out and others move in. And be aware: that rich sense of belonging is habit forming! It’s one that changes the state of our neighborhoods, cities and communities, one person and one family at a time. 

Sharyn Fields
About Sharyn Fields

Author Sharyn Fields is a mom and blogger whose passion is uncovering the joy and humor in every heart she meets.

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