While it takes a village to raise a child, it takes communication to cultivate that village. The residents of N. Kilbourn Ave in Chicago, Illinois don’t just understand this concept, they’re a working model of this concept.
It’s a beautiful day in mid August. Whereas temperatures usually climb into the sweltering 90s-this August 11th proved to be day modeled from perfection. A cool breeze swirls through the neighborhood of N. Kilbourne Ave as their 10th annual block party progresses. Children bike down the tree-corridored road, while the sunshine peeks between branches creating a psychedelic lighting effect that only nature can produce.
Walking down the shaded sidewalk with residential celebrity and block party founder, Kiki Shotanus is an impressive ordeal during the outdoor party. Residents greet her by name when she passes, no matter how far up the mile-long block she goes. Her response to each greeting is made with a personal touch-she knows everyone and everyone knows her. She even knows the name of the canines carousing by as neighbors on dog-walking duties approach.
With a family of her own, moving into this neighborhood some 11 years ago, Kiki knew she wanted a greater sense of community. “It’s vital to know your neighbors, it’s also practical. You get to know each other and you become concerned with your neighbor’s welfare”, she says walking by the porch-clad, 1950s era homes. 2 years after Kiki moved into the neighborhood, the first Kilbourn Avenue block party took place.
“The first 2 years were so lame, we gave away a duffle bag and auctioned off used VHS tapes,” she says recalling the fledgling years of the block party.
It’s a far cry from the sprinkler-infused bouncy castle, grilled food stand and Kindle Fire giveaways offered today.
“The money we make at this goes into the funds for next year’s, so we’re one step ahead now,” Kiki says as muffled music from The Sam Cockrell Band playing up the street blows in with the wind.
Parked at the corner of N. Kilbroun and Irving Park Road is a small business that has played a huge part in the operations of the block party. “I approached Mid City Nissan and asked them if they could help, and they have been outstanding. They said ‘we want to be a part of this, a part of the spirit’”. 10 years later, Mid City Nissan is still a huge part of the Kilbourn community, co-sponsoring festivities and providing the live music for the party. Mid City Nissan knows that it takes more than just proximity to be considered a neighbor and so do the locals.
The residents can see and feel the difference in the sense of community after the inception of the block party. Irma Cruz who’s lived on the block for 25 years says that even after the party packs up, the residual effects last throughout the year. “When the block party is done, people watch out for each other, “she says. As her Corgi dog, Diego makes his rounds at the party; everyone stops to pet him as he tries to steals the show from the live band warming up in the center of the street.
As Diego wanders around the block, neighbors scattered down the road keep a watchful eye on him, glancing back throughout the party to make sure his little Corgi legs haven’t gotten him in trouble. As it is with Diego, they keep the same watchful eye on the children in the neighborhood.
N. Kilbourn Ave. seems to be its own autonomous village within the city limits and the residents here know that all it takes is a bit of communication and some help from a friend like Mid City Nissan to raise a community.
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