Unity in the community; Block parties strengthen the 'hood - and are fun, too.
Ruben Colon has fond memories of neighborhood block parties when he was a child growing up on the North Shore.
When he moved to the Leslie Lane neighborhood in Millbury about a year ago - a handful of houses on a cul-de-sac - he lamented that he did not know his neighbors well.
To remedy that - he planned a block party.
"This is a great neighborhood, and this was a chance for us to get to know our neighbors," Mr. Colon said. "Instead of driving by your neighbor and waving, this is a chance to get to know one another. Now, instead of a quick wave, we stop and say hello."
The block party was held Aug. 14 for the eight-home neighborhood and their extended families. There were games for children - about 20 children who ranged in age from 1 to 17 - such as a water balloon toss. The menu was potluck - a variety of cookout favorites, as well as dips, ethnic dishes and chilis. Mr. Colon and his neighbor set up tandem grills from which they cooked and served hot dogs and hamburgers.
"We called it our `first annual' block party and I am sure we are going to do it again - maybe twice next year," Mr. Colon said
At a time when technology is the chosen form of communication and the economy has left little for people to spend on entertainment, block parties have become a way for neighbors - some of whom may have lived next door to each other for years and have never spoken - to meet, reconnect and relax.
William Borowski has helped plan the Shirley Avenue block party in Millbury for the past two years. Mr. Borowski asked the Board of Selectmen for permission to block off streets in his neighborhood Sept. 5.
The party drew 50 to 75 neighborhood residents. Each homeowner was asked to bring a dish for which they were "famous."
Mr. Borowski said block parties are a tradition that has
fallen by the wayside, but are key to building a sense of community in neighborhoods.
"Block parties certainly bring generations of many neighborhood families together," Mr. Borowski said. "Some residents have been here for 50 years, others less than one year. It gives us a chance
to learn about the history of our neighborhood and meet each other. Everyone has a fascinating life and they have fascinating stories. Without having things like this, you don't get a chance to even know their first names. It forges even greater sense of community."
Block parties were popular in city neighborhoods in the 1970s, and some reports indicate block parties started in the World War I era, as a way for neighborhoods to mark soldiers going off to war.
"Over the past generation, we've become more cloistered - even with Facebook," Mr. Borowski said. "We don't talk to people anymore; we text one another. This is one example of a resurgence, or reconnecting, of realizing - in this economy - what is really important, and that is true relationships with our friends, families and neighbors."
"Women used to stay at home and talk across the back fence. People were neighborly, but that just doesn't happen anymore," said Edith L. Morgan, president of the Brittan Square Neighborhood Association in Worcester, of the importance of block parties. "People's schedules are so different today."
The Brittan Square Neighborhood Association will hold its 19th annual block party Oct. 3.
The block party was originally hosted by a neighborhood resident who had a large barn in the backyard. Today, the location has moved to Ms. Morgan's home at the corner of Shattuck and Uxbridge streets, and flows from there. The association gets a permit every year to close the street for a few hours.
The parties include games for the kids, and even local political hopefuls.
"We have a fairly mixed neighborhood," Ms. Morgan said. "People bring dishes from their native country. We have Albanians, Peruvians, Dominicans, Irish. Different people bring different things."
Ms. Morgan likes to note the block party has never been rained on and she hopes this year continues that tradition.
And while she hopes the block party tradition will continue, she thinks this will be the last one she organizes.
"I am almost 80," Ms. Morgan said. "But, I said that last year, too."
ART: PHOTO; CHART
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/CHRISTINE PETERSON
CUTLINE: (P) Mitchell Robbins, left, and Derek Couture ride scooters during a block party on Shirley Avenue in Millbury Sept. 5. (CHART) Block parties