Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 20, 2010

Welcoming party introduces neighbors

Barron Park holds yearly 'get-to-know-you' event Aug. 29

by Karla Kane

Being the new kid on the block can be daunting — for kids and adults alike — and even longtime residents can feel isolated from their neighbors at times. Coming together to be greeted by smiling faces, affable donkeys, free ice cream and familiar tunes could help make even the shyest of residents feel more at home.

That's the idea behind the Barron Park Association's annual getting-to-know-you gathering, scheduled this year from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 29 at Bol Park.

Realtor and longtime Barron Park Association member Gwen Luce heads the gathering, which has been held for the past four or five years, she said.

"It's a very informal way for members of the community to meet and mingle," she said. "It's a friendly, free event."

The focus of the event is simply neighbors meeting each other and socializing in a casual setting. Driftwood Deli donates ice cream (this year, six flavors will be featured) and volunteers take turns scooping the frozen treat into cones and cups. Sometimes, the scoopers are local celebrities, such as Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Skelly, who took a turn when he first moved into the neighborhood a few years back.

And of course, Barron Park's most beloved and well-known residents, neighborhood donkeys Miner and Perry, will be dropping by for petting and visitation from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Nametags will be offered in various colors identifying newcomers, "in betweens" and "long timers," some of whom are original homeowners who've lived in Barron Park for 50 years, Luce said.

Residents will also share their talents and expertise at the party. One table will be dedicated to a neighborhood babysitting list, where families can find sitters for their kids or offer their sitting services. Another table will be set up by neighborhood historian Doug Graham, showing photos of the neighborhood from its early days and offering background historical information on the area.

Musicians Gary Breitbard (who plays accordion, banjo and fiddle, among other instruments) and Jena Routi (accordion) will perform acoustic music under the name "Side by Side." Song sheets with lyrics to classics like "You Are My Sunshine" and "Oh, Susannah!" will be distributed so everyone might sing along.

"We do a sing-along so that everyone becomes part of the performance," Breitbard, who also organizes music for the annual May Fete, said. "I'm not crazy about just singing at people; I like participation. We do a mix of old pop songs, kids' songs and folk songs."

The capstone event will be the family soccer game, scheduled for 4 p.m. The game is led by resident Louis Lehot, a native of France, who organizes a game for parents and kids in the park every Sunday.

"The soccer game is between adults and kids and the kids usually win," soccer-game regular Anja Finserth said. "The families are mostly French, German, British and Danish among many others, but a couple of Americans have been sighted as well," she said.

International families are increasingly common in Barron Park, Luce said, and it is a goal of her welcoming committee to make sure people of all nationalities and backgrounds feel welcome. This year, in a nod to the different cultures represented, the poster for the event states the word "welcome" in many different languages.

"We're trying to make everyone feel like they're part of the community in this very diverse neighborhood," Luce said.

In years past, the event included more organized games and activities, but Luce said this year it will be more relaxed, a simple gathering of friends and, she hopes, friends to be.

"There's no pressure; it's not commercial. It's just fun," she said.

Editorial Assistant can be e-mailed at kkane@paweekly.com.

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