By Jan Robbins
Residents who live on 32nd Avenue between Lawton and Moraga streets look
out for each other. They have a Neighborhood Watch Group, and on a recent
gorgeous day in the Sunset, they gathered for a “Neighborfest” block party.
Under a clear blue sky with temperatures in the low 70s, a group of some 100
adults and children shared food, enjoyed music, chatted with neighbors and met
their local police and firefighters.
The Neighborfest Block Party program was advanced by Daniel Homsey, director of the
Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN), a San Francisco agency whose mission is
to help residents build healthier, safer and more connected communities.
“Although one of the primary goals of NEN is to help seniors and adults with
disabilities, among the most vulnerable of our population, programs like
Neighborfest help everyone,” Homsey said.
Looking out for one another was a feeling that permeated the 32nd Avenue
Neighborfest. Judy Pelzner, 68, said the block party creates a channel for people to
continue to get to know each other.
“When you get to know someone you build up a sense of trust, which creates
feelings of well-being,” she said. Pelzner said that when her family goes on vacation, she
asks her neighbors to keep an eye on her house and car. “I can contact people when I
need a hand, which is very important as we grow older,” she said.
Food at the Neighborfest was abundant. It required three five-foot-long tables
to hold main dishes, such as spaghetti and meat balls, fried rice and an array
of salads and vegetables, as well as a large display of cakes, cupcakes and cookies.
“Food is the hallmark of a great party,” said Homsey.
Upbeat children’s music trumpeted from Little Wonders Montessori School
as costumed princesses, super heroes and knights ran around as the children’s parents
talked with one another.
“We consider everyone who comes on our block a neighbor,” said Sarah Pelzner,
26, Judy Pelzner’s daughter, a co-organizer of the event. A bouncy house was provided
for kids over five years of age and a never-ending supply of energy.
During the event, police officer Shawn Imhoff rolled up in a spiffy police cruiser.
Imhoff said he is always glad to participate in these events.
“I love community engagement where I can help to demystify the police,”
The kids who wanted to go into the police cruiser were thrilled, especially when
Imhoff let them call out to their parents on the loud speaker. The kids also got star
police badge stickers.
The local fire brigade also showed up, five strong with a fire-truck, and members
of the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) provided a table
of informational brochures on the basics of personal disaster preparedness.
Annie Wong, 67 , was the person who got the ball rolling on the block party two
years ago, according to Sarah Pelzner. Wong wanted to create a Neighborhood Watch
Group for her 32nd Avenue neighborhood, and took it upon herself to research the
procedures, fill out the application and market the idea to neighbors. “I put notices in all
the mailboxes,” Wong s aid.
Enough membership was generated to qualify the block to become an official
neighborhood watch group.
“We have signed up 22 households out of 46 houses, ”Wong said. “Members have
attended at least one meeting in the last year.” An official neighborhood watch group
gets Neighborhood Watch signs installed at either end of their block to proclaim
neighbors are looking out for each other.
“The block party gives us a chance to meet more neighbors and interest them in
the group,” said Wong.
A roster of members of the watch group helps people connect when necessary.
The Neighborfest program helps restore both local connectivity and the ability
to work together at the block level during an emergency, Homsey said, “so that
during times of stress it doesn’t matter if you’ve lived in the area for 30 weeks or
30 years – you’ll have the support and
care you’ll need to survive.”
NEN develops strategic partnerships with community organizations, city agencies,
non-profits and academic institutions to develop programs, tools and technical
resources to build thriving neighborhood communities. It can be contacted at the
website at http://www.empowersf.org or (415)554- 7114.