We asked FamilyFun readers to tell us about the creative ways they celebrate and strengthen their communities. Here, we share their very best ideas, from glow-in-the-dark parties to backyard bonfires and campouts.
Massachusetts: Rockin' on the Porch
By Linda Carrubba
Our town has a big arts community, and there are many fun things to do. During Porch Fest, for instance, held on a Saturday in May, people play music on their porches and in their driveways. Visitors can pick up a map of participating homes. Last year, one family did "porch-i-oke": a band led by a woman on accordion played songs on request. To encourage people to join in, they printed up a book of lyrics to some of the songs they knew. Nothing says community like a group sing-along of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know"!
Illinois: Sprinters Welcome
By Lacey Bordewick
It's approximately a quarter of a quarter of a mile from the farthest neighbor's house to our backyard. Every year in May we run the Maizefield Area Quarter-Quarter Mile, then have a fantastic neighborhood party! The first year, we made quarter-quarter T-shirts and gave out Maizey Awards for silly things like Handyman of the Year(s) -- given to the neighbor whose basement remodeling project took longer than his wife would have liked. The second year, we had a Beatles-themed "Band on the Run" quarter-quarter. Everyone wore Beatles T-shirts, and at the party we ate Yellow Submarine Sandwiches, Strawberry Fields Fruit Salad, and Maxwell's Mac-and-cheese. Last year, we made new shirts that said, "I thought they said 'rum'!" After the race we celebrated with Rum Runners for the grown-ups and face painting for the kids. This year, we went with a chocolate-themed quarter-quarter!
Connecticut: Backyard Campout Party
By Mindy Burke
We live in a great neighborhood. We have book clubs, Girls' Nights In (and Out), game nights, pool parties, Oscar parties, and ice-skating on our backyard ice rink. This past Labor Day, we invited neighborhood families to camp out in our backyard. The kids played games, and after dark, we all watched a movie in our garage. In the morning, we had a potluck breakfast. It was a huge success, and we plan to make it an annual tradition.
Pennsylvania: Bonfire of the Christmas Trees
By Christine Sparages
A week or so into January, everyone in our neighborhood seemed to be experiencing the post-Christmas blues. It was cold and dreary, with nothing special to look forward to. My husband came up with the idea of hosting a "Burning of the Christmas Trees." A few days ahead of time, I sent a note to my neighbors inviting them to drag their trees over for a bonfire. My husband set up a safe burning area in our snow-dusted backyard (and we had a fire extinguisher handy, just in case). We set up a second, smaller fire pit for the kids to toast marshmallows for s'mores. One by one, the trees went up in smoke. The kids loved watching the fire and listening to the crackling sounds the trees made. We even got out sparklers and fireworks left over from the summer. It may have been 20 degrees outside, but our neighborhood was happy and warm.
California: Ripe for Competition
Pleasant Hill, CA
By Rose Bargmann
In our neighborhood, we have an annual tomato-growing contest. In the spring, the organizer collects money from participants, then buys and distributes the plants so that we all grow the same type of tomato. At the end of the season (usually Labor Day weekend), everyone brings one prized specimen to a backyard potluck. The fruit is judged in a few categories (taste, looks, and so on), and the winners get prizes. The event is a really fun way for us to catch up with each other after a busy summer. We love any excuse to socialize!
Utah: A Glow-in-the-Dark Fourth
By Jessica Smith
Because of the dry, hot summers our area has had the past few years, fireworks of any type have been banned. Last July, we hosted the First Annual Glow Bash at our home. We purchased glow sticks in every size, color, and shape so that we could have glow-in-the dark bowling (using glow sticks in plastic bottles for the pins), an egg hunt with glow sticks inside plastic eggs, and a glow-in-the dark ring toss. We also hung up two giant black lights, and the children used highlighter markers to draw their own "glow" tattoos. They had a blast!
Alabama: Kids' Business Cards
By Robin O'Sullivan
Here's an idea that's worked great in our neighborhood. When you have a block party, set up a business card-making station for the children. Kids list their skills, such as babysitting, raking leaves, and shoveling snow, along with their name and phone number. Neighbors can call to hire the kids when needed, and the kids get to earn some spending money while working for trusted community members!
Massachusetts: Chess Kings
By Julie Parker Amery
Each year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we host a neighborhood chess tournament. We get 25 to 30 participants of all ages. I divide players into three categories (King, Knight, and Rook), based on their skill level, and I make a schedule so that each person plays three games. The tournament lasts for much of the day. People are welcome to stay and play in another area of the house, to watch the matches, or to come and go as they please. Everyone brings food, and we graze all day. At the end, with very dramatic music playing, I give out awards -- a little plastic trophy, a championship ring, or a medal -- to the top three players in each category.
Originally published in the August 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.