This past Saturday, October 29th, the 200-Block of Zara Street in Knoxville held their Fall Block Safety and Awareness Party at the Kingdom Life Fellowship Pittsburgh. Residents enjoyed chili, cornbread, nachos, and cookies, along with a table chock-full of safety information and resources courtesy of the Knoxville Community Council and the Zone 3 Police Public Safety Council. This was the first community project I supported in my position as New Sun Rising’s Equity + Capacity AmeriCorps VISTA.

Zara Street resident Aimee Mangham saw that there was a need to bring people together to discuss safety issues and take ownership of their block following a shooting that took place on the street back in July. When I met with Aimee to start planning, she explained that she envisioned an event that would strengthen relationships between residents and community organizations while building community awareness of safety issues and fostering a sense of hometown pride.

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Block Party organizer Aimee Mangham writes an idea for how to make her block a safer place.

During the Block Party, residents mingled with representatives from the Knoxville Community Council, the Zone 3 Police Public Safety Council, and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Zone 3, who came prepared with a wealth of information to share with the community. They also wrote their ideas for how to make the block a safer place, such as turning on porch lights, attending community meetings, cleaning up the street, and forming a block watch group. As a next step, residents will be forming a formal block watch group with the help of the Zone 3 Police Public Safety Council. Aimee hopes to make the Block Party a regular event for residents to check in with each other and continue to work toward making their block and the surrounding community a safer place.

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A local police officer prays with community members before dinner is served.

As I left, I noticed a group of children crowded around the police car parked outside, hanging out with the Zone 3 police officer who attended the event. These are the types of relationships that it is so important to foster in order to create a safer community and it was inspiring to be part of a resident-led effort that was able to bring people together to form and strengthen community bonds.