By Nona Tepper
Residents of the 500 block of Thomas celebrated their annual block party the evening of Aug. 4, talking, tossing bags and tapping their feet to music for at least the 10th year, said Eric Van Ness, organizer.
"I definitely feel like it meets a need and builds that sense of community," he said.
After moving to the block in April 2013, Van Ness took over organizing the party from the previous owners of his house, hosting the planning meeting, collecting signatures and scheduling music, food, recreation and more. The village requires that 75 percent of the residents on the block agree to the party and applicants must submit the signatures and sign a release at village hall, said Tim Gillian, village administrator, noting that the village receives about 25 applications per year, from residents like Van Ness, and sometimes more than one.
"The 400 block of Beloit has two every year, Halloween and summertime, with music and inflatables for the kids. Every block is typically different," said Van Ness, describing his block party as more low-key.
Van Ness said he starts by emailing out a SurveyMonkey to neighbors asking what dates work best, aiming for a Saturday night at the end of July or early August, before school starts. Then he holds a planning meeting, "which essentially turns into a party itself," he joked, where about 20 neighbors gather to discuss the potluck, activities and music.
"The odd number houses will bring main courses and even numbers bring appetizers and desserts. It flips the next year," he said.
At the meeting, Van Ness said he's able to get most of the necessary names. But afterward, he spends about an hour knocking on doors of the 40 houses on his block and collecting the other signatures. A week before the party, he sends out an email to residents reminding them of the block party, and also stuffs fliers in their mailboxes.
About 40 neighbors gathered for the party this year, munching on grilled chicken and burgers, appetizers of vegetable bruschetta, and fruit desserts. A local teacher stuffed gender-neutral gift bags for kids who attended. Another resident set up a children's playhouse and wading pool, which dogs took a dip in too. Adults socialized, tossing bags and stacking giant Jenga pieces. And, of course, there was music.
"As the night goes on, folks from other blocks, friends or other neighbors stop by; it swells around 8 or 9 o'clock. People hear the music," Van Ness said. "The village will send the police by to say 'Hi,' and typically send a firetruck for the kids to play on."
Ice-breakers were planned for attendees, but Van Ness found the group didn't need them. After all the planning, most people already seemed to know each other. New neighbors stopped by, introduced themselves and started easy conversations. After another successful party this year, residents talked about hosting a winter meet-up too, although it won't be in the street, Van Ness joked.
"It's a nice event to really just kind of hang out. I think everyone looks forward to it," he said.