Make your block party a huge success

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

For Susan Lipnick, a former central Ohio resident, block parties also are good ways for newer communities to establish relationships within their neighborhood. "Every Friday seven families in our community have a 'TGIF' night at a neighbor's house," Lipnick said. "We rotate every week throughout the summer so each family that is participating will host three times."

Because their block parties are held in the backyard of the hosting family, there is no need for permits. And they keep the menu simple. The hosting family supplies the meat and beverages. Host families have served everything from hamburgers, hot dogs and pulled pork sandwiches, to chicken and beef kabobs. The other families attending supply the side dishes, desserts and paper products.

"We started having our TGIF nights when we realized that every Friday night we were all outside visiting while the kids were playing, and then we were scrambling to figure out what we were going to do for dinner," Lipnick said. "Now we just plan to be together every Friday. We usually start around 5 p.m. and end close to 8 p.m. because of the kids' bedtimes."

Lipnick said these weekly gatherings have helped the neighbors get to know one another. "It also gives the dads a chance to stay connected to the community. They don't get to see each other much during the week, but this way they can hang out and talk with other guys in the neighborhood."

Block parties also can help your neighborhood become a safer place to live, said Carrie Ryan, crime prevention specialist with the Westerville Division of Police. Once neighbors know one another, they can more easily spot a stranger in the neighborhood. "Active neighborhoods give outsiders the perception that the neighborhood is an organized group," Ryan said. "As a result, people believe the neighborhood is trained to do neighborhood watch."

Many block watch groups find block parties not only build friendships, but complement their efforts. Tussing Block Watch, which is a group in the Pickering-ton and Reynoldsburg area, held a block party last July. "People from 30 different homes participated in the event," said Summer M. (she did not want to use her last name), the group's coordinator. "We ended up holding it in my back yard which made it seem a little more personal and relaxed. We also didn't have to worry about children running into adjacent streets or trampling through neighbors' yards and gardens."

"[For the kids] we had a water slide, a kiddy pool with fishing, a swing set and a sprinkler. Everything was very general and flexible so that it allowed the kids to do what they wanted without us having to designate volunteers to specific games," Summer said. "We also had a raffle for both the adults and children. Prizes for the adults included L'Oreal products and spa gift certificates that were donated and various kids' prizes included movies, pencil packs, games and toys."

Some block parties are organized around a holiday like July 4 or Labor Day, while others are simply held on a weekend. If you are new to the block party scene, an easy way to start is to hold your event on National Night Out, which is the first Tuesday in August each year. This year, National Night Out will be held throughout central Ohio communities on August 4 between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.

National Night Out is an event in which communities across the United States come together to take a stand against crime in their area. This event also improves partnerships between local police and neighborhoods, strengthens communities and lets criminals know that communities are organized and fighting back.

"It's also an inexpensive way for a community to hold a block party," Ryan explained. "We provide a lot of resources to area neighborhoods on that evening, including prizes and a banner. Groups also can arrange for visits from PC the Patrol Car and McGruff the Crime Dog.

Additionally, we send out K-9s and handlers, offer digital fingerprinting, give police car rides and we even have a karaoke machine. The fire department also participates and kids can spray the hoses. We do a lot of the work for the block party and have a number of officers designated to help with the event."

During National Night Out, Ryan said some community groups will choose to block off streets while others will party in their own backyards. "People can do what works best for their group," she said. "As far as food, some people barbecue and ask people to supply their own meat and side dish to share while, others will just have a dessert party."

Another idea is to have a build-your-own-sundae bar. Each guest brings a quart of ice cream and their favorite toppings to share. Groups can do the same thing with hot dogs and allow everyone to develop their own hot dog creations. Traditional picnic food works well too. If every guest brings a bucket of fried chicken and their favorite side dish to share, no cooking or grilling is involved.

Finally, block parties are relatively easy and inexpensive to put together. Still, they take planning. Whether this is your first neighborhood gathering or you're experienced partiers, it's best to divide the workload among a few neighbors. After you select a date, time and location, you will need to consider:

  • what type of food to prepare
  • what activities you will provide
  • what type of music you will play (if at all)
  • what you will do if it rains.

If you plan to block off streets, you also will want to research your community's guidelines. The specific legalities vary from community to community, but most areas require a permit and a small fee. In return, they provide you with the barricades and permission to block the streets.

In Westerville, Ryan said it takes about a month to complete the paperwork because the police department and the fire department have to sign off on blocking streets in case of emergencies, so you'll want to plan ahead.

All in all, block parties are a fun and positive way for people to connect, Ryan said. They also build stronger, safer and more cohesive communities. So what are you waiting for? It's time to take it to the streets.

Making sure the guests at your block party are entertained (especially kids) is essential. While traditional outdoor games and activities will work well, including sidewalk chalk, kickball and tag, here are several not-so-traditional ideas that will help make your block party a hit.

Sprinkler Obstacle Course: Create an obstacle course for kids and adults using sprinklers and other outside toys.

Sponge Tag: This is a great way to keep things cool on a hot day. Fill a large bucket with water and toss in a large sponge. The person who is "it" grabs the sponge and uses it to tag other players. When someone is tagged, they're "it."

Water Balloon Toss: Divide the players into teams and have them toss water balloons without breaking them. The unbroken balloons are carried to a designated spot. The team to safely toss the most water balloons without breaking them wins.

Watermelon Eating Contest: Nothing says summer like a slice of watermelon. Cover a large table with a plastic tablecloth and slices of watermelon. The person to eat the most watermelon in a set period of time wins. [Be sure to include cups for seed spitting.]

50/50 Raffle: This is a great way to raise money for your group with no expense other than raffle tickets. Every person pays $1 per raffle ticket. At the end of the night, a ticket is drawn and the winner takes home half the pot, while your group keeps the other half.

Broom Hockey: In this game, you use brooms and soft rubber playground balls to play hockey. Traffic cones or soccer nets can be used for the goals.