Palo Alto teens launch Caring Neighborhoods Challenge

Group hope events will build trust and friendship among residents

Smriti Gautam has never been to a block party in her University South neighborhood because there hasn't been one. There's been no ice cream social or movie night or neighborhood picnic in the park, she said. But Gautam plans to change all that.

She and a friend, Ariana Tindall, hope to start a tradition for their neighborhood — a potluck block party before the summer ends. There will be kids' activities and something interactive for parents to do. And by event's end, she hopes to know more neighbors, the Palo Alto High School senior said.

"I know there are a lot of kids in my neighborhood, but I really didn't associate myself with my neighborhood," she added.

Gautam is part of Caring Neighborhoods, a Project Safety Net initiative to bring residents together so kids feel valued and can talk to their neighbors when in need. The teens go to events and take pictures, which will be posted on the Project Safety Net website.

Caring Neighborhoods was started by Terry Godfrey, former Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE) president and a candidate this fall for the Board of Education.

Twelve Palo Alto and Gunn high school students launched the Caring Neighborhoods Challenge, which encourages residents to host block parties, barbecues and other events between now and Labor Day.

The neighborhood with the intergenerational event that attracts the biggest crowd will help cut the ribbon at the new Mitchell Park Library opening with Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shepherd, Gautam said.

The teens have been getting the word out. They passed out pamphlets at the Chili Cookoff in July and are making banners to display around town. Each Wednesday, they discuss their next strategy or make posters or other informational materials, she said.

Gautam has learned the value of building community with multiple generations as a volunteer at the Lytton Gardens senior residences.

"I got into it, and they were so cute and sweet," she said of the Lytton seniors. "I'm really excited to go there. They're always cooped up inside. We play bingo, and I try to take as many of them outside as I can."

Gautam also attended an intercultural party put on by the Midtown Residents Association this spring, and it made her want to be part of something bigger in her own neighborhood, she said.

"The neighbors seemed to know each other for a long time, and there were a lot of people talking," she said.

Residents don't have to go far out of their way, she said.

"We're not looking for extravagant, exquisite hosting. It could just be getting neighbors together for snacks and drinks," she said.

But the events should be intergenerational.

"Young kids tend to stay away from the older generation, but I feel like we should close the gap a little bit," she said.

To get a feel for the kinds of creative community building that can be accomplished, the teens have been attending, photographing and videotaping neighborhood gatherings.

"I feel like this can help so that kids feel like they are not alone," Gautam said.

More information about the Caring Neighborhoods Challenge is at

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Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 23, 2014 at 9:52 am

A lot of South Palo Alto neighborhoods are just more friendly and have annual parties and potlucks already. It's one reason I moved over here. But this is how it starts, the efforts of some to bring everyone together. All the best in making a difference in your neighborhood!

Like this comment
Posted by barron park-ette
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Barron Park Assoc. put on a HUGELY successful movie night just last night at Bol Park. Hundreds of people showed up, plus a food truck, popcorn machine, ice cream truck with ice cream sandwiches, the donkeys came out for photos. And I would also add that Barron Park streets have their own picnic and potlucks starting about July 4th thru labor day (all depends on what street you live on though, some have them like La Para in July and Kendall during labor day weekend)...

Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2014 at 1:13 pm

We had our 11th Annual Chimalus & Tippawingo Block Party just last Saturday! It's a simple potluck but everyone who comes loves it.

Movie night in Bol Park last night was great (thank you Lydia Kou and the BPA for organizing this!)

Barron Park is a quietly fun place to live.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Midtown Residents Association has their ice cream social coming up soon.

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Posted by i live in university south
a resident of University South
on Aug 23, 2014 at 6:17 pm

There are plenty of block parties in University South. There's one going on today in the 500 block of Kingsley. No, there isn't a giant one for the whole neighborhood, but I often see individual blocks blocked off for a block party.

Like this comment
Posted by nice idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2014 at 6:25 pm

I like that youth are part of the planning of neighborhood events and to have this age group involved.

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Posted by Never more
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2014 at 7:20 pm

We used to have wonderful block parties, but after 2001, they became exclusionary and certain families were not invited. After 2004, the block parties ceased entirely.

I really miss the old block parties, but there are too many snooty billionaires now.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 24, 2014 at 8:30 pm

@university south,
Isn't the Kingsley party the one mentioned in the article that is new, and that this teen is doing because her neighborhood never had one?

You say you often see streets blocked off for parties - are you sure they were neighborhood parties, or for someone in the neighborhood, there is a difference? Doesn't sound like you were invited.

I lived over near Jordan and none of my neighbors knew each other even though they'd lived there decades. On this side of town, we've had many neighborhood parties, potlucks, gatherings, festivals. (Greenacres is very small, thank you Barron Park for including us.) One part of Greenacres just had a potluck Saturday night, too, attended by over 100 people. That party has been going on for 9 years.

Like this comment
Posted by Teresa Godfrey
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Teresa Godfrey is a registered user.

Hi - The teen team has been working on this since school let out and it's winding down for this summer. (They'll do it again next year.) If you're interested in having an event you held this summer entered into the challenge please see this page.Web Link Entries are due by 9/11/14.

And thank you for caring about our neighborhoods and our youth. I was lucky to work with such great teens this summer.

Like this comment
Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 25, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Join and plan your neighborhood events!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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