by Julie Wolf, JFN Newsletter Editor

(The latest in a series of interviews with the people we meet in our Metrowest community)

Here’s a nice story to warm you up in the middle of winter. In late September of last year, when there were leaves on the trees and green grass on the ground, Ronnie Kessler threw a party. It wasn’t any ordinary party, and it wasn’t just for kids. Ronnie organized a block party in her Framingham neighborhood. If you thought block parties were relics of the past, think again. The turnout was huge, and the party did just what Ronnie had hoped it would: It brought neighbors together, allowed people to meet who’d only seen each other getting in and out of their cars. Since that afternoon, Ronnie’s neighborhood has become a community, connected by something other than Facebook. Ronnie grew up in Woodbridge, Conn., and lives with her husband, Andrew, and their two sons, Eli and Sam, in Framingham, where she teaches third grade at Hemenway Elementary. 

How did the idea for a block party come to you, and how did you go about organizing and publicizing it?

We moved to this wonderful neighborhood in 2006. We immediately loved the tree-lined streets and the fact that it was made up of three cul-de-sacs. We knew our kids would be able to ride their bikes and take walks without traffic coming through. Since moving into the neighborhood, there have been many other families with young children moving in. I often meet the parents and children while taking walks on the weekends and during the summer. However, I realized that many of my neighbors, like my husband and me, are working parents. We often don’t have time to set up play dates or get to know each other because we are so busy. I thought a great way to get everyone together would be a block party. I talked to some of my neighbors about it, and they all thought it was a great idea, but someone just had to get it going. Since I am a teacher, I’m fortunate to have my summers off. I decided that was the summer I would make it happen.

I made up a flyer that simply asked, “Is your family interested in having a block party?,” and passed it out to all of the neighbors. At first the responses were slow, but we soon had a committee of neighbors that wanted to help plan the event. We then sent out another flyer with more details and, finally, the invitation about a month before the event.  

Did you know many of your neighbors before? Why do you think our neighbors tend to be disconnected from each other these days? 

I knew a handful of my neighbors before the event. I mainly knew the people on my street, but I knew there were many young kids throughout the neighborhood. I think people are just busy.  During the summer it’s a little easier to connect with your neighbors because it stays lighter later and the weather brings everyone outside, but once fall hits, people tend to be indoors more, and we lose those connections. 

Growing up, my best friends lived on my street. Our moms met each other while taking walks and just got to know each other. I want the same thing for my kids. I want them to be able to go next door or down the street and have a friend to play with. We just have to work harder these days to make those connections. I set up most of my playdates and get-togethers over e-mail, text, or Facebook. We rarely have face-to-face or phone conversations anymore. I thought a block party was a great way to put a face to a name.

You had an amazing turnout — between 75 and 100 came. What do you think made it so successful? And did you witness any connections being made, or did you make any connections with people you hadn’t before? 

Well, the weather definitely helped out. We got very lucky, not to mention the Patriots had a night game that day. Besides that, I think we sent out the date well in advance, and we did not have it over the summer. People tend to be away or have plans over the summer, but once school starts, more people are around on the weekends for soccer games, Hebrew school, etc. 

It was nice to see all of the people in the neighborhood that have lived here for 30-plus years. I heard great stories of events that used to take place. The neighborhood had an association called the Maple Ridge Association with members. They planned events and had parties all the time. Once their kids grew up and people moved out of the neighborhood, the association was no longer needed. I think it would be great to get it started again.

I was able to talk to and get to know neighbors that I have just met in passing and have just said hi to. For example, there is another family with two boys almost the same age as mine. Now I know that family and hopefully our kids will become friends.

As you know, at Jewish Family Network that is our goal: to connect Jewish families to each other, to build a community from the ground up, so to speak. You’ve participated in playgroups and playground meet-ups. What has made you seek out connections to the Jewish community, and why do you feel that is important in addition to building connections in your local community?

I chose to live in the Metrowest area partly because of the Jewish connections it offers. I went to Camp Young Judea for most of my young life, and many of my friends were from this area. The Jewish Family Network has helped me to reconnect with some of my old camp friends and meet new friends through the different events. We are also fortunate to belong to Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, which offers great programs and events for families. I want my kids to have connections not only to their neighborhood and their school, but also to Judaism. Bringing them to programs focused around Judaism and exposing them to the music and customs is one way I am able to facilitate that connection.    

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