Locals bringing block parties back to Nashua

08/19/2013

NASHUA – Diane Sheehan can remember the city’s annual block party like it was yesterday.

The citywide event she attended as a child would take place on Main Street, with live music, food, games and, of course, residents from around the city.

“It was so much fun,” she said. “I remember getting pulled up on stage with Up With People. It was a big deal when I was a little girl.”

Now, Sheehan and other city officials are hoping to bring those memories to a whole new generation of residents, bringing back a city block party this fall.

The Nashua Block Party will be held in four different locations on Sept. 21: Atherton Park, the Police Athletic League, Nashua High School North, and a central location for wards 5,8, 9 still to be determined – giving residents a chance to meet people within their own neighborhoods.

While the events will be held simultaneously, they will have their own unique flair, reminiscent of their residents and culture.

“We encourage party-hopping,” Sheehan said, laughing.

The block party is the work of several city officials, including Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce President Chris Williams, Police Athletic League Executive Director Shaun Nelson, NeighborWorks community services specialist Michelle Ducie, and aldermen Sheehan, Kathy Vitale and Mary Ann Melizzi-Golja.

After hearing about the block parties held in the city until the mid-80s, the group came together in hopes of bringing the tradition back and strengthen the community.

For the last seven months, they’ve met in local restaurants and offices, figuring out the best way to bring the event back to the city.

The community response has been encouraging, Williams said Thursday. The group created a Facebook page on Wednesday, and by Thursday afternoon had 300 likes.

Local government and businesses have already jumped on board with the event as well. The mayor agreed to use $4,000 in city funds to kick start planning for the block parties. The money will come from neighborhood impact funds, used for community items like playground equipment and the Big Day of Serving.

St. Joseph Hospital and Pennichuck Water Works are each donating $1,500 for the project.

With a goal of raising $10,000 for the parties, Williams said organizers are looking for additional business sponsorships.

In the meantime, the group hopes to generate excitement for the block parties among local residents, ensuring big crowds at the September events.

“People often describe Nashua as a big city in New Hampshire with a small town feel,” Williams said. “This reinforces that.”

The city has done a lot in recent years to encourage the community to come together, Williams said, from outdoor concerts and movies downtown to the creation of a community garden.

Bringing back the city’s block party tradition is just another step toward a stronger community, said organizer Paul Shea, who has also planned the city’s Fancy Friday events.

“Community togetherness is something that naturally waxes and wanes over time,” he said. “I think we’re on the upswing. The more who work on that stuff, who work on building relationships, the better.”

Encouraging people to come to the city block parties will not only help bring together city residents, but will also aim to inspire residents to start their own neighborhood gatherings. This kind of togetherness in the community, organizers said, makes Nashua a better place to live.

“It makes a healthy neighborhood,” Sheehan said. “You should know everybody. Nashua already has that sense of community, but when people come together and care about where they live, it gets better.”

Melizzi-Golja said that while there are still many people living in the city who grew up here and raised their own families locally, there are plenty of families new to the city as well. The block parties will give them a chance to meet longtime residents and become part of the community, she said.

“People who have kids get to know each other through school, but if you don’t have children, it’s harder to meet people in your neighborhood,” she said. “This is a good chance for people to get a better sense of what their neighborhood is like.”

And for residents interested in having a party even closer to home, organizers are hoping to be able to offer resources to help smaller block parties sprout up across the city, providing information on permits and city contacts to get the parties off the ground.

The four primary parties will vary somewhat, but will all feature food, drinks, live music and family activities. The events will be free and open to the public.

Organizers said they’re looking forward to seeing how many residents turn out for the events, and hope the block party can become a fall tradition.

“It’s the people of this community that make Nashua what it is,” Sheehan said.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (@Telegraph_DC).

SOURCE: Nashua Telegraph