http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2012/05/18/beyond-strolling-the-neighborhood


Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 18, 2012

Beyond strolling the neighborhood

'Follow Me to Stanford' brings College Terrace residents together for campus events

by Sue Dremann

Neighbors used to socialize over a borrowed cup of sugar or a pot of coffee, but in College Terrace they hike to the Stanford campus.

Follow Me to Stanford, the brainchild of Noel Bakhtian, brings residents together to share some of the university's best offerings in art, technology and culture. Since their first gathering in July 2011, neighbors have gone to a virtual-reality seminar, summer jazz concert, pumpkins-as-art exhibition, Messiah sing- and play-along and campus sculpture tour.

The university and all it has to offer is right in the residents' backyard. College Terrace borders Stanford Avenue on the south side of the campus. Depending on where they go on campus and the physical fitness of participants, they walk or carpool, Bakhtian said.

During the March 4 campus sculpture tour, residents met at Cameron Park. They joined Chris Carlton, a Cantor Arts Center docent, at the campus' Main Quad. The university has 100 pieces of 19th- and 20th-century outdoor sculpture by artists such as Auguste Rodin, Alexander Calder and VietnamVeterans Memorial artist Maya Lin.

Bakhtian said she conceived of the idea when she was the Stanford observer for the College Terrace Residents' Association (CTRA) in 2011.

"I was trying to find a way to develop a mini-program for our residents that would bring us together socially but also connect us with Stanford a little more closely. In a brainstorm session at a CTRA board meeting, we hit on this idea of group walks over to Stanford and experiencing the opportunities afforded by our proximity to Stanford," she said.

Bakhtian is no longer the neighborhood Stanford observer, so the Follow Me role has gone to John Gabaix. He is planning upcoming events, he said.

The group has been small but enthusiastic, participants said.

"I attended all but one of the Follow Me events Noel planned," resident Doria Summa said. "I thought it was a great idea, and Noel has a great spirit to inspire others."

"I did meet new neighbors I had not previously known at events. I think it has the potential for really doing a lot of good: introducing us to our neighbors and encouraging residents to appreciate all the benefits Stanford offers," she said.

Irina Cross agreed.

"I always wanted to see the sculptures and go on the docent tour," said Cross, who also attended the virtual-reality seminar.

Although she hasn't met anyone she doesn't already know, Cross said the events she attended were pleasant for her and others. But like many neighborhood-bonding events in these busy times, neighborhood associations are "struggling to make people come out of their houses," Cross said.

Dara Olmsted moved to College Terrace from Boston in November. She heard about Follow Me through the NextDoor neighborhood email list and attended the sculpture walk, she said.

"I got to look at interesting art and to get out to meet my neighbors and get to know the neighborhood. I was so thrilled about it. It was a beautiful day," she said.

Olmsted added that Follow Me offers the opportunity to talk to people one doesn't know about a common interest and the conversation morphs from there. The gathering provides a time to relax, and it is less awkward than trying to drum up conversation over a cup of coffee.

"As you are walking around for 11/2 or 2 hours, you just start to get to know people. We started to talk about more neighborhood events and the community," she said.

Olmsted said she works for a nonprofit group and is interested in community building. She was a resident assistant (RA) in her dormitory at Harvard University, she said.

Since moving to the neighborhood Olmsted has also joined a book group begun by Bakhtian. Olmsted started a crafts club.

"It's important," she said of neighborhood gatherings. "It makes you more likely to talk to your neighbors."

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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