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posted: 8/10/2012 3:00 PM

Block parties help neighbors become friends

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Across communities, block parties bring people out of their homes to mingle with neighbors and develop friendships.

You may already chat at the mailbox, wave as you drive down your street and offer to remove fliers scattered by the front door for a vacationing neighbor. You might even take it up a notch and bring a favorite casserole to a family dealing with illness or a plate of cookies to a new neighbor.

However, organizing a block party is still one of the best ways to get to know all your neighbors within the shortest amount of time.

Sixteen years ago, Carol and Bob Hansen gathered with neighbors Tom and Teri Althoff to organize a block party for all the neighbors on Green Trails Drive. The Hansens, who had recently moved into the neighborhood back then, knew the fun and advantages of having a block party from their previous neighborhood.

"It is helpful to get to know your neighbors," Carol Hansen said. "You need to make an effort to do so."

Longtime Lisle residents Enas and Mary Enas agree.

"Our block party is a time to relax and catch-up with our neighbors and their families," Enas Enas said. "It is like one big family get-together."

For more than a dozen years now, all the 18 homes on the block have received two fliers each summer from their neighbors. In the early part of summer, the first flyer encourages families to save the date. The second flyer gives details such as to bring your own folding chair, plates and utensils. Every family is encouraged to bring a dish to pass, along with any meat and beverages their family will need.

"We like it to be as simple as possible for everyone," Carol Hansen said.

This year's event is from 3 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18.

The group found those hours offer the most shade and cooler temperatures. It also allows enough time on the back side to clean up and return the street to traffic.

To help other communities plan a block party, the Green Trails neighbors share some advice. First, roughly two months before, select the date and times. Next, in Lisle, someone needs to go to the village hall for a permit. Part of the permit process will include getting as many neighbors as possible to sign that they are aware of the block party and are in agreement that it may take place.

Bob Hansen or Tom Althoff will visit each neighbor to secure the necessary signatures. Often the pair is greeted with the words, "Oh, it must be block-party time," Bob Hansen said.

"You need a majority of the residents to approve the plan," Althoff said. "By ordinance, every block party needs a permit."

The police department will bring and take away official barricades from the front yard of the person whose address is listed on the permit. Organizers need to put the barricades in place within the permitted hours.

After those necessary details are in place, the fun begins.

The Hansens always tie a colorful balloon on every neighbor's mailbox for a festive touch. The Althoffs bring some tables and a 10-by-10 foot tent to the center of the street to anchor the location. Depending on the weather, the couple also might bring a fire pit and lanterns.

Other neighbors bring a couple of grills and lawn games. Kids enjoy riding their bikes around a small obstacle course of cones.

Families with children pitch in to rent a Jumping Jack that is set up on the largest and most level front lawn.

"The children always laugh at the adults who get in the Jumping Jack and start huffing and puffing after a few minutes," Bob Hansen said.

There is no need for organized games, the fun just unfolds naturally.

New families on the block look forward to their first block party while neighbors who have lived on the block since the houses were built, roughly 36 years ago, look forward to visiting with the children who grew up on the block and return with families of their own.

This year, neighbors Kyle and Claudia Zellman will celebrate the first birthday of their son with a few extra relatives at the block party.

"We love having our son grow up in this environment where people are so friendly," Claudia Zellman said. "The sense of community is very important."

The block party fun may last one day, but neighbors reap the benefits all year.

"We've had neighbors with health problems and it is nice to know there is someone they can call if needed," said Norma Masek.

"On a recent vacation, we came home to find out some neighbors came over every day in the heat to water our flowers, which was incredibly nice," Tom Althoff said.

At one time, neighbors helped the Zellmans find their lost dog.

Block parties help stamp out isolation, build a little safety net and create a friendly sense of well-being. Between heading off to jobs, running errands and dashing off to bring children to school and activities, the Hansens, Althoffs, Enases, Zellmans and Maseks encourage others to stop and meet their neighbors.

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle twice a month in Neighbor.

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