HARTFORD - The 13th Annual South Marshall Street Block Party was a little wet, but a great success. A cloud-covered sky and passing showers couldn’t stop all the fun! The Salvation Army Marshall House event was sponsored by Aetna, Catholic Charities, The Hartford Project, and the South Marshall Interfaith Coalition.
Everyone enjoyed the festivities, meeting new people, and spending time with neighbors. Games and activities were throughout the street, with plenty of food and drinks for everyone. There were tables with books and informational resources. The street was packed with neighbors, vendors, performers, kids, The Hartford Police Department and their off-road vehicle, and giant monkeys too!
Nancy and Mike Rion of Emmanuel Congregational Church have been involved in the block party for the past six years and organized many of the non-profits. “We have over twenty volunteers from the church that help serve food and pass out free books to the children. I get the sense that people appreciate it and look forward to it,” said Mike Rion. There are so many different cultures and diversity in this particular block that don’t tend to mingle. This is the one day of the year that there is a lot of interaction, seeing each other, and not shying away from someone that is different,” said Nancy Rion.
The entertainment kicked off with a drumline performing their street routine, and was followed by dancers, Zumba, The Hartford Pound Drill, Drum and Dance Team, and other great entertainment. Bikes For Kids came through this year with the kids’ most popular item - bikes! Each child who had their raffle number drawn received a bike, a helmet and a water bottle to ride around South Marshall Street. Courtney, a mother of a little girl, was excited when her daughter won her first bike. “It was a shock, because I wasn’t expecting anything,” Courtney said.
This is the first year the First Robotics Team 1991 participated in the Block Party. Nicknamed “The Dragons,” the team’s robot that caught and tossed balls drew quite the crowd. “Being an engineering school based in Hartford, we’ve had many kids that have come by that are really interested in all the aspects of engineering and building a robot,” said Mike Guilette of the Dragons.
The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services canteens, and CERT served drinks and popsicles, and provided information on fire safety. Lieutenant Lionel Thompson with the Hartford Fire Department Special Services Unit has promoted public fire and lifesaving education in the Block Party for seven years, and looks forward to it every year. “It’s a beautiful interaction with the community. Hartford as a whole is a melting pot, but this community has a plethora of different nationalities from all over the world, so it’s a perfect place for us to promote fire safety and emergency preparedness with our CERT team,” Thompson said. Because of the number of fires in the city of Hartford, particularly with the number of apartments in this area, there is a concern regarding fire safety. CERT works with The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross to promote renters’ insurance and available resources.
Salvation Army staff and volunteers participated by passing out red bead necklaces to all of the kids, which proved to be very popular. Other Salvation Army programs had their own informational tables, including The Anti-Human Trafficking Division, Human Services Bureau, and The Salvation Army Corp Cadets Prayer Table.
“June is Internet Safety month, we focused on online safety and parents monitoring online usage. We had “stranger danger” coloring pages for the children to reinforce staying safe in their surroundings,” said Krystal Ambrozaitis, Salvation Army Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator. Guests also participated in the Red Sand Project where red sand is poured between sidewalk cracks in order to draw attention to overlooked populations (trafficked, refugees, immigrants, etc.).
Officer Chris Chanaca, Asylum Hill Community Service Officer with The Hartford Police Department comes out every year with other officers and brings Hartford Police cruisers, and an off-road gator. “We always have good interaction with everyone here. I know everyone in this neighborhood. I’ve worked in this neighborhood for several years," said Officer Chanaca. “There’s people that we don’t see on a daily basis. The kids like to sit on the gator, it has lights on it. Sometimes we bring them down to the cruisers and let them play with the lights.” This year, the children had a scavenger hunt, and one of the things they had to do was ask a police officer their name. “We had a lot of kids coming up to us, just asking our name, and that obviously starts conversation. It’s a good thing to have younger kids communicate with us and look at us as not the bad guys. Some kids grow up to think that we only come when bad things happen, and that’s not always the case.”
Many people gathered today with one purpose in mind – to engage, inform, and entertain the community of the Asylum Hill Area. “We did not see color, socioeconomic background, nor did we see addresses,” said Tomiko Grant, Director of Operation at The Salvation Army Marshall Street Family Shelter. “We did however, see a number of neighborhood agencies work together to bring about community awareness. We couldn’t have done it without all of the agencies who came out and supported the Block Party, my colleagues at The Salvation Army and the Marshall House staff who made this all possible.”