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PostHeaderIcon Meet Your Neighbors: Boost Peace of Mind

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Soon after Shawn Richardson and her husband, Fred, moved into their San Ramon duet in the Twin Creeks area, she thought about organizing a neighborhood get-together at a nearby park.

But it took a crisis to move her to act.

“One day an old gal across the street – she had a bit of dementia – started knocking on people’s doors asking if her granddaughter was there,” Richardson said.

The girl, a frequent visitor to her grandmother’s house, had gone missing. Immediately, a small band of neighbors fanned out to surrounding streets in search of the child. Then, one neighbor had the presence of mind to call the girl’s mother. It turned out she was safe at home with her family.

At that point, Richardson told her block mates: “You know, guys, we really need to get together when it’s not an emergency.”It was the impetus for what has become an annual tradition on the court of 28 duet-style homes, which recently celebrated its 15th annual block party.

“I’ve only missed one of the 15 years,” said Cindy Kavert, who moved to the court with her family in 1991. “I was thinking about it as I got ready to come, thinking of all the people who have come and gone (and) watching all the kids grow up.”

One recent summer afternoon – the party is scheduled for the same Sunday afternoon time slot each year to make it easy to remember – the generations started mingling soon after the 3 p.m. start time.

One dad and son practiced tossing a ball in advance of the egg tossing contest planned later in the day. Nearby a pair of adolescent girls chatted with some younger neighbor boys, while adults ranging in age from their 20s to 90-something snacked on brownies and cheese-stuffed celery as they got acquainted near the picnic tables. Another group gathered around to meet one neighbor’s newly adopted cattle dog-border collie mix and swap dog-training tips.

Rosemary Straub, a relative newcomer to the street, says she looks forward to the picnic, where she’s gotten to know several women who now gather weekly for Sunday night dinners at her place.

“(It’s a time to) be with old friends or meet new ones, and I love to see the kids,” she said, between pouring glasses of homemade lemonade for new arrivals.

At its peak, the potluck barbecue drew about 75 attendees, from young kids to an octogenarian who is the original owner of her home. Members of one family, who moved away years ago, return for the annual gathering.

“That’s a testament to how well received it is,” Richardson said. “I really think it’s helped the whole neighborhood get to know each other.”

And in case someone needs a hand or wants to follow up later on a conversation they had with another resident at the picnic, Richardson distributes a map of the court with each person’s address and the first names of family members.

“If you get into trouble, it’s good to know people,” said resident Pam Ellman, adding that she now knows someone on the court who is a plumber and another who fixes cars. Plus, there’s her husband Marty, who she said “does everything.”

Additional connections and goodwill that have flowed from the annual event also testify to its benefits. The Ellmans, Richardsons and several other neighbors attended Citizens Emergency Response Team, or CERT, training together. Should a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, or other wide scale emergency, like a major chemical spill on the freeway, occur, the group will know what to look for to ensure homes on the street are safe, check in with their neighbors and communicate with professional emergency response personnel, such as the city fire fighters, to learn next steps for the community.

Meeting each other at the annual barbecue also has helped young parents find babysitters, pet owners find dog sitters and led to spin-off holiday gatherings such as a holiday ladies’ brunch. At Halloween, several residents park chairs outside to socialize and pass out homemade cookies to the adults accompanying trick-or-treaters. Twice, residents have held group garage sales.

For those who’d like to start a similar tradition for their own block, Richardson advises: keep it simple.

“Just do it, and don’t worry about making it complicated,” she said.

She prints up a simple announcement on a narrow strip of paper about six weeks before the event, and then sends out a reminder two weeks in advance. Both sets are delivered by a couple of neighborhood boys who slip them into each home’s mailbox.

The first year Richardson put up balloons and asked people to let her know what dishes they planned to bring to share, but over time she found no need to coordinate the numbers of entrees, side dishes and desserts -- it all just worked out.

“It’s BYO everything,” Richardson explains. “I just get the tables, nametags, napkins and paper plates.”

She’s also dispensed with the decorating, but does plan at least one game to promote socializing. For several years, there was a cookie baking contest. For the most recent gathering, she brought handfuls of Mardi Gras-style beads in metallic gold, red, purple, green and blue for an icebreaker activity.

As each guest arrived, Richardson draped a necklace over his or her neck with instructions to avoid using the word no. Using the forbidden word resulted in forfeiture of the necklace. A good-natured exchange of beads – and laughter -- commenced immediately, as one participant after the other slipped in uttering the off-limits word.

For the kids, Richardson organized an egg tossing contest, (pictured right) at the suggestion of 13-year-old Wesley Mariscal, who has attended the block party since he was 10. Today, he’s got braces, glasses and a Spalding basketball under his arm as he surveys pairs of young people practicing lobbing a hard-boiled egg back and forth. Peals of laughter erupt from the kids and adult onlookers as the eggs often miss their mark and bounce on the grass.

Wesley gives the yearly gathering a thumbs up.“It’s a nice thing in the neighborhood,” he said. “Usually there’s a lot of kids here. We go and play in the park and then we go eat.”Turning momentarily philosophical, he acknowledges that getting together once a year pays off for the remaining 364 days on the calendar.“We all go our own different ways,” Wesley said. “Usually people move in and you never meet them. It’s a nice way to say hi.”-MB

Monique Beeler has lived, worked as a communications professional and played soccer in the Tri-Valley area for more than 15 years. More recently, she's become a weekend cyclist and counts riding to the summit of Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais among her conquests. As a former daily newspaper reporter, she covered beats from business and lifestyle to education and religion. This is her first piece for All News No Blues.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 11 September 2013 05:25)

 

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