We bought our first house when our boys were six months old and a little over two years old. It was a cute little house in a quiet neighborhood. Our plans were to establish ourselves in the community and after a few more years, relocate to a bigger house, perhaps out in the country. As the years went by, more than just a house, our little rambler became our home, a safety net in the world. We added two little girls, and have shared our home with couple dogs, a few cats, a few frogs, a couple of salamanders, a colony of snails, a family of hermit crabs, a bunch of fish, and most recently, a flock of homing pigeons. My husband might tell you that if we had moved to a farm (a dream we both held for many years), he wouldn’t have been able to feed all the creatures that his wife and children would drag home. The real truth of the story is that even though, at times, we felt like our home was a little small for a family of six, we wouldn’t want to leave now.
The transformation in our thinking occurred very slowly. The love for our home grew after watching neighbors offering to mow grass or blow snow for each other, watching each other’s pets, sharing fresh baked goods or garden produce. Unlike most of our friends, we actually knew each homeowner by first name. There were impromptu gatherings in the street where we would watch the kids play and swap stories. There were block parties, wedding and baby showers, and welcome baskets for new homeowners. One day in a phone conversation with my grandmother, I was sharing how we had decided to bloom where we were planted. In her sweet Alabama accent, she said, “Well, it was like this. . . You were going to get a bigger house, until your neighbors convinced you otherwise.” I couldn’t deny it. She was right! These sweet people wove themselves into the fabric of our lives.
In the last few years, a few of the older neighbors have passed away or moved to a nursing home, bringing new families to the block. It is time to plan another block party to all get better acquainted.
If you are contemplating doing a neighborhood party, here are a few tips to help make it a success.
Tip #1 – Divide and conquer – I believe any successful endeavor requires a team effort. If possible, ask another neighbor or two to help out with the planning, if for nothing else than to choose a date and to be a sounding board for ideas.
Tip #2 – Know your community – When picking a date and time, keep in mind what activities are going on in your town or neighborhood that might conflict with the party. For example, many of my neighbors attend a free outdoor community band concert held Wednesday evenings in the summer. I would never plan the Block Party for Wednesday night because it would be too big of a conflict. If there are plenty of families with young children, plan the party for after work rather than later in the evening. You probably won’t be able to work around everyone’s schedules, but the goal is to have as many neighbors attend as possible.
Tip #3 – Pick a location – I live on a block with a circle attached to it. Our block parties have been in the backyard, on the physical street (after we arranged for traffic cones from the city), or in a front yard. Think about who has tables and chairs or picnic tables that could be used for seating. If you have a group of elderly neighbors, think about the terrain that they might need to traverse. Make sure that on the day of the party, you have something or someone directing guests to all the fun!
Tip #4 – Get the word out – Some of my favorite invites over the years have been where my kids colored pictures and we wrote the details on their artwork. I have also used card making software to make a more polished invitation. We have dropped them in paper boxes or taped them to neighborhood doors, but the most fun is when we have gone door-to-door and personally invited each guest. In reality, I think people long for a sense of belonging, and getting asked to join neighbors for a fun and social evening is a way to fill that need.
Make sure to include what the guests need to bring or provide. I suggest keeping the food and entertainment simple. We have done potlucks as well as BYOM (this is not “bring your own mom” – it is actually “bring your own meat”) and asked families to share a side. You do run the risk of having all desserts or all main dishes, but I am not the biggest fan of assigning people what type of dish to bring. Frankly, I am not much of a baker, and being forced to bring desserts is equivalent to torture to me. One time we had just a pie social for our block party, and it was a huge success. I have even heard of friends who all chip in and buy pizza for their block party. What you don’t want to do is plan something so extravagant that you don’t have time to enjoy the evening yourself.
Also make sure to inform guests if they need to provide tableware (plates, napkins, and cutlery) and possibly beverages for themselves and their family. We have a couple of huge water coolers. We will often say, “Water is provided, but please feel free to bring your own beverage if you would like.”
Tip #5 – Find something for everyone – Most adults will find a few others and chat the evening (or afternoon) away, but nothing is worse than a party where there is nothing to do for the kids. One year we asked a couple of the teens to create games for the kids, which was a double blessing; the teenagers didn’t think the party was lame, and the little ones were entertained. If there are no teenagers, we have found bubbles, a few lawn games, and a sandbox to keep kids busy for a few hours to be quite successfully.
Tip #6 – Be able to enjoy the party – Don’t fret about the little stuff. No one will know what thoughts you had, and most people will just be grateful someone took the time to organize the gathering. I will suggest that group introductions are really nice way to put a name with a face. If you are really ambitious, you could organize a mixer (like “Get to Know Your Neighbor Bingo,” where you have to find specific people to meet each category and offer prizes for all who attempted to complete it). If that is too much work, skip it! The whole idea of a block party is to have F-U-N! After a little time spent planning, hopefully you can enjoy your evening and walk away with a few new or reconnected friends, maybe a new friend for watching kids or pets, and a greater sense of community.
“Love thy neighbor,” Matthew 22:39 (NIV)
Photo credit: Flikr and USAG – Humphreys