Bringing renters into the block party fun

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By Cassandra West

Last summer a team of interns working on a program called Neighbors Knowing Neighbors helped put on about a half dozen block parties around the village. What made their parties different is they were held in the courtyards of multi-family buildings.

Having earlier canvassed areas with mostly multi-family dwellings, the interns heard "that block parties are great but only involve single family homes and the renters aren't as engaged," says Michele Rodriguez Taylor, interim director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.

So the center worked with the interns, recruited by Success of All Youth, to develop a campaign and strategy to get block parties specifically targeting renters on the block. The parties, planned and organized by the teen interns who teamed up with local landlord Esco Properties, aimed to make sure children in buildings felt welcome by having a lot of activities for them. Some activities included a dance-a-thon and frozen T-shirt contest (some chills and thrills on a hot summer day).

Oak Park Apartments, another local apartment management company, puts on movie nights for its tenant families. The company will rent the Lake Theater and screen a movie that appeals to kids, a blockbuster superhero or cartoon. They get to go downtown and "feel they're part of a bigger community," says Jim Rolff, vice president of operations for Oak Park Apartments.

It's often not as easy for children who live in apartment buildings, many along busy streets, to feel part of a neighborhood. Rodriguez says a part of the center's mission is trying to help build community and to get "people interacting."

Block parties can help to some degree to break down barriers between single family and multi-family residents.

The more youth who can get out, interacting "that's going to impact their outlook, too, as far as how they feel growing up in Oak Park. It would be a shame to say, 'I grew up in Oak Park. [It was] known for diversity, but I never felt welcome because my parents rented.'  So what are we doing to make everyone feel welcome?"

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).

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