A Neighborhood Picnic

Posted by Laura Rendall | Published July 25, 2016

A Neighborhood Picnic

It was the 2nd annual picnic of my neighborhood, which surrounds Emma McCarthy Lee Park. New families were making connections and long-time residents were catching up with each other. Neighbors from one end of the park were meeting neighbors from the other end, and old-timers were telling stories of neighborhood history and lore. The picnic was organized by the two churches in my cluster, North Campus Church and Yuma Church. “An event like this,” says Randy Beckett, one of the leaders of North Campus Church, “causes a heightened sense of community in the neighborhood. It creates connections between families that otherwise wouldn’t normally see each other or have any interaction with each other.”

Our annual tradition was born in 2015 when we were brainstorming ideas to help build a sense of community and connection into our neighborhood. Inspired by the CityChurch’s annual Memorial Day breakfast picnic, we decided to start our own annual neighborhood potluck around the same holiday. Emma McCarthy Lee Park was a perfect location, situated conveniently in the middle of our neighborhood with a big shelter and playground, perfect for a large gathering. The 1st annual picnic was a hit, with eighty to a hundred people gathering despite rainy weather.

This year, for the second annual picnic, we invited over 250 houses between Hyland and South Dakota. Families from North Campus and Yuma, together with a few families from Gilbert Church and Northwest Ames Church who also live in the area, divided up streets. Then we slapped on some sunscreen, buckled our kids into their strollers, and hoofed it door-to-door to invite neighbors personally. We were often greeted by unfriendly faces peeping out through cracked-open doors, clearly in suspicion of whatever we were selling. However, once they found out we were organizing a neighborhood picnic, doors opened for handshakes and faces opened with smiles. “The invitation process was a great way to make friendly connections with neighbors,” says Julie Allen. “By inviting people personally you get to meet people you wouldn’t normally see.”

This year, over one hundred people showed up to participate and the event had just the impact we were hoping for. Sitting across from each other at wooden picnic tables, many neighbors who came exclaimed that it was so good to see the whole neighborhood turned out. As Curtis Spence and my husband, James Rendall, worked the grill and tried to keep burgers from burning, they received many compliments from neighbors thankful that the event had been organized. One comment in particular stuck out as significant to us. It came from a neighbor appreciative of how our churches work together to promote a sense of non-exclusive community in the neighborhood.

In addition to accomplishing our goal of building neighborhood community, the picnic helped our two churches to identify ways to further imbed ourselves in the neighborhood. “For our churches, an event like this opens up an awareness of needs we can respond to. It helps us get involved in the lives of people in our neighborhood in ways we wouldn’t have been involved otherwise” says Randy. Logan Handsaker echoes his thoughts, adding, “This picnic has given us a great opportunity to get other community things started. Once you meet people at a big event like that, they are more open to getting together for a barbeque in your backyard.”

At North Campus Church and Yuma Church we are excited by the success the picnic has had the last two years and are looking forward to seeing it grow in the future. “The relationships that have been built at the picnic and other neighborhood events over the last two years, lead us into the summer with a strong base level of energy as a community,” James explains. We hope that as neighbors continue to connect at the annual picnic and at other, less formal events, our neighborhood will grow closer and stronger, and our churches will have opportunities to do good and to grow.

At the end of the picnic, when all the meat was finally cooked and dinner was finished, Joel Peterson and Daniel Kroese arrived in a pickup truck loaded with four large coolers. Several families from our churches had pitched in to make over eight gallons of homemade ice cream in creative flavors like cherry pie, caramel, and Oreo. A table was cleared, ice cream set out, toppings opened, and the meal found its perfect ending in a sundae buffet. Afterwards, some families started to drift home while others lingered to talk. A group of dads led by Logan pulled out a volleyball to toss around at the nearby court. The 2nd annual picnic was winding down. Our neighborhood is looking forward next year to round three.



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