National Night Out resources and ideas

in About Our Blocks, Resources

These are some resources you can use to plan community-building activities in your neighborhood around National Night Out.

The National Night Out website. From the About page: NNO is designed to Heighten crime and drug prevention awareness; Generate support for, and participation in, local anticrime programs; Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and Send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back. “Last year’s National Night Out campaign involved citizens, law enforcement agencies, civic groups, businesses, neighborhood organizations and local officials from over 15,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases worldwide. In all, over 36 million people participated.”

Click here for National Night Out Party Ideas. Excerpts:

  • Serve food, but keep it simple: Watermelon, Lemonade, Coffee, tea and dessert, Ice cream cones, Pretzels and chips, Fruit and cheese plates, Pizza, Cookies, Hamburgers, Hot dogs, Corn on the cob, Salads.
  • Facilitate conversations: Design a mixer: “Find a person who…” – with prizes, Block history stories, National Night Out stories, Photos from past block parties and NNO events, Oldest resident award, Longest resident award, Newest resident award.
  • Do something for the community: Collect for a food bank, Beautify a common area, Plan a fall clean-up or bulb planting, Recruit additional Neighborhood Watch leaders and block captains, Discuss neighborhood problems & opportunities, Distribute neighborhood block list.
  • Have fun: Bike parade, Board games, Skits, Make a mural or banner, Coloring Contest, Pony rides, 3-legged race, Football, baseball, basketball, street hockey, Roller blade, Youth parade with a theme, Jump rope, Chalk art, Face painting, Bubbles, Sack races, Magic show, Sing-alongs, Water balloons, Frisbee competition, Piñata, Clowns, Bike Safety, Child ID Kits, Block party, Cookout, Parade, Jump rope contest, Hula hoop contest, Barbecue, Street dance, Volleyball, Storytelling (truth or fiction), Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, Scavenger hunt, Take lots of pictures, Karaoke, Rummage sale, Music and DJ, Dunk tank, Movies, Sandy beach party, Street carnival, Disposable camera distribution/photo contest, Self-defense demonstration, Jail & Bail, K-9 demonstration, Funniest hat contest, Welcome new neighbors, Live music, Horseshoes

There’s always something: Read the Trademark Fact Sheet (“Violators will be subject to legal action”). For instance, if your group needs to raise funds for your NNO, and you want to hit up a local business, you need to let it know that it “may not have its participation/association with NNO publicly advertised, displayed or promoted, unless it is registered as an official NNO sponsor with NATW’s national office, or unless NATW extends advance written approval.”

Other resources:

Have you organized NNO activities in the past? We’re helping organize some communities around NNO this year, and hope you can help by sharing stories, tips, do’s and don’ts. Particularly interested in how you kept the community going after NNO. – Thanks

Ideas for Block Activities – from Jim Diers, Steven Clift and

in About Our Blocks, Resources

Steve Clift

Thanks to Ashoka Fellow and e-democracy founder Steven Clift for sending me this list, which was drafted at his request by Our Blocks friend Jim Diers, the author of Neighbor Power and former head of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. You can add to the list by going to the Block activities wiki on

In many communities there are intentional efforts to organize “block clubs” among neighbors. They are often promoted by police departments because neighbors who know each other, watch out for each other. In some communities, neighborhood councils play this role. Because organizers typically have a goal in mind, like “crime prevention,” the support materials and systems do not document in detail the wide range of activities block clubs/neighbors can organize among themselves.

Suggestions for Block Activities

Jim Diers

  • Crime prevention
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Block parties
  • Skills exchanges
  • Share tools, pickup truck, camping equipment, etc.
  • Buy in bulk
  • Policy discussions
  • Support for latchkey kids
  • Support for housebound seniors
  • Support for one another
  • Rideshares
  • Create community garden on vacant lot or someone’s yard
  • Create pocket park on vacant lot or someone’s yard
  • Install benches, picnic tables or other community furniture in front yards
  • Improve/maintain common spaces: alley, median, park traffic circle, etc.
  • Paint mural in intersection
  • Plant street trees
  • Provide base for neighborhood association
  • Slow traffic with signs/art
  • Create placards for doorway of each home representing that family
  • Create website for block
  • Create a manifesto of block values and commitments to one another
  • Create a directory of available expertise (recycling, technology, etc)
  • Create a green block in which each household commits to reducing carbon footprint
  • Conduct a talent show
  • Celebrate Good Neighbor Day by recognizing good deeds

These suggestions were subsequently added to the wiki:


Icebreakers & games for team and community building

in About Our Blocks, Resources

Some free icebreaking, team-building, community-making resources and selections, mainly from nonprofits, schools, and government agencies.

Some notes on when to use icebreakers, and what makes them good – from the Resource Center of the Corporation for National & Community Service (@nationalservice). “Icebreakers are often used to encourage people to open up or feel comfortable, invite participation in a group activity, and stimulate inclusion. However, an ineffective icebreaker can create discomfort or tension, straining rather than energizing a group dynamic.”

From Teambuilding & Icebreakers (pdf): “The primary goal for an icebreaker or a getting acquainted exercise is the development of an environment which is anxiety-reducing and which allows individuals to “break the ice” or get acquainted by having fun.” – from Associated Students, Western Washington University

Teambuilding, Icebreakers & Energizers from the Association of Washington School Principals. Includes Teambuilding, icebreakers & energizers, Inclusion, School Observances, General leadership concepts & activities, Inspirational stories.

Teamwork Exercise: Icebreakers, from Collaborative Justice. Icebreakers offer an easy initial opportunity for us to introduce ourselves to the larger team and to share a bit about our lives in an effort to promote openness and sharing among team members, and to set the tone for our future work together.

Icebreakers, Energizers & Team-building Activities (pdf) from the Youth Power Curriculum of Contra Costa Health Services. “The Guide is a resource for teaching youth about activism, leadership and community organizing. Use the easy-to-follow lessons in this practical training manual to partner with high-school aged youth to create real changes in their lives and communities.”

The Programming and Technical Assistance Unit of the Florida DJJ provides several free guides (in pdf form) for both trainers and participants. Icebreaker categories include Breaking into Groups, Change, Communication, Following Instructions, Introductions, Reviewing Difficult Material, Values, and Waking Up / Relieving Tension.

Great Group Games, cited by the American Library Association, includes group game instructions, how-to videos, downloadable worksheets, and editor’s picks. Founded by Stacy Chan (@greatgroupgames) “to share group game ideas between youth leaders, teachers, parents, camp counselors and community leaders”.

Icebreakers from From their About page: “This site is run by two self-proclaimed game-lovers, Joe and John. We pride ourselves in bringing you instructions for the best, most fun group games and activities. This website is completely free.” See also: Index of all group games; Teambuilding. – “This site features instructions to several playtested, high quality free icebreakers, fun games, and team building activities.”

From Icebreakers, Team Building Activities, and Energizers (pdf) by the Lions Club International: “activities to facilitate introductions, to introduce a topic, to review concepts recently learned, to encourage team building, and to energize. There are also some miscellaneous activities at the end that you might find interesting or useful.”

From Games and Icebreakers by the Intervarsity Ministry Exchange: “Creative methods to spur discussion or introduce people or an idea.” MX is a “participatory website, accessible to anyone, for easily sharing ministry resources.”

50+ Icebreakers and Cultural Games from NAFSA: Association of International Educators. What are Icebreakers? What can Icebreakers Do? Considerations in Planning Icebreakers. Things to Be Careful about in Using Icebreakers.

Team Building Activities (pdf) by the National Community Development Institute. A 26-page document with details on icebreakers and community building activities. Developed by NCDI and other organizations (, Categories include Constituency Building Icebreakers, Community Building Activities, Learning Styles, Inspirational Stories, Team Building Articles.

From the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program: “Ice breakers can effectively break tension and encourage interaction between people, whether they know each other or not. While we often encounter some who are resistant to doing ice breaker activities, more often than not, these activities generate laughs and set a more positive tone for the meeting.” See also their index of tools for various phases of community building.

The wiki Teampedia is a “collaborative encyclopedia of free team building activities, free icebreakers, teamwork resources, and tools for teams that anyone can edit”. Founded by Seth Marbin (@smarbin) before he joined Google as a trainer, then as GoogleServe Global Director. See also the Resources page, with links to sites, blogs, books, and more.

Team-building activities from Training for Change. A small selection of team-building exercises, but provides useful details such as setup, variations, and debrief.

The Useful Games site was developed by David Wilcox (@davidwilcox) and Drew Mackie, who have worked together since the early 1980s on regeneration projects, partnerships and community participation. During that time they developed a range of workshop games, some of which are available here. Content appears as blog items, and are indexed under our games.

From Wilderdom: Icebreakers, Warmups, Energizers, & Deinhibitizers. Wilderdom is a website run by researcher and psychologist James Neill (@jtneill). Related resources in this site: Game Index, Trust Building Activities, Team Building Activities.

From Volunteer Power: Ice-Breakers, Event Openers, and Team Building Activities for Committees, Boards, and Volunteer Staff Meetings.

Block parties

in About Our Blocks, Resources

Sources: Block Party Guide, Oakland CA and Block Party Planning Tips from Block Party NYC. These resources include forms and other tools. For local restrictions and guides, try searching the term “block party permit” and the name of your city/town. Click on this, for example.

10 Reasons To Have a Block Party

  1. To have fun – no excuse or reason to celebrate!
  2. To meet your neighbors.
  3. To increase the sense of belonging in your neighborhood.
  4. To organize a city-sponsored group such as Neighborhood Watch.
  5. To make connections within the community. When you know people, you can exchange skills or resources and perhaps organize a book club, baby-sitting co-op, share walking to school duties, or find new friends for your children.
  6. To plan a campaign for traffic slowdown, get better lighting, or address other interests.
  7. To “use” the street for one day, for example to roller blade, set up a kids jump house or to practice bike safety skills.
  8. To meet some of the old-time residents in the neighborhood and learn about its history.
  9. To have a neighborhood clean-up day, play some good music and barbecue once all the work is done.
  10. To start a tradition of getting together at least once a year.


How to start organizing

  • Gather a few neighbors and divide up the tasks. A block party is too big a production for even the most highly-skilled organizer to accomplish alone. If you don’t already know you neighbors, reach out to them by organizing an introductory meeting and planning session.
  • Decide on a possible theme, activities, etc. Decide what to do about food.
  • Start knocking on doors to find out if there is enough interest and, if so, which day would be the best for the most people
  • Pick a date and time (mid-afternoon to evening works best). Respect neighborhood quietness after 9:00pm. Think of an alternate plan in case of poor weather.
  • Go door to door. Hand out invitations. If you plan to close off the street, you’ll probably need to complete Block Party application form.
  • Recruit volunteers to help with the planning.
  • Decide if this will be a block party restricted to those on the street/block or will people be able to invite friends/relatives
  • Post signs the day before reminding everyone to remove cars and that the street will be closed.


  • Invite a city council member, school principal, or city staff member.
  • Call the Police Department, Fire Department, Environmental Services or other city departments to obtain literature, give-aways, or to request a presentation.
  • Make a record of everyone who attends and everyone you contacted; after all, the idea of a block party is to connect neighbors.
  • Identify special talents your neighbors might have – you may be living next to a magician, singer, dancer, artist, radio host or prize winning cook.
  • Plan lots of activities for children.
  • Food: if you’re looking for the least fuss, work, and cleanup, the hot dog is for you. The standard charcoal grill is a cheap, easy, portable way to go. Someone on your block probably owns one if you don’t.
  • Lots of block parties have great luck getting food donated from local grocery stores or supermarkets.
  • Have an environmentally friendly party. Ask everyone to bring their own reusable plates, cups and cutlery to limit paper garbage and litter.
  • Include activities that encourage people to meet each other. Use nametags and include children by asking them to create the tags.
  • Make sure that people with disabilities can participate in the activities and include their attendants (those with seeing eye dogs or in wheelchairs).
  • Institute a bathroom policy “Everyone to use their own” so that home security is maintained.
  • Trash: have at least one trash can at every table/location where food is being served. It’s also a good idea to have several elsewhere on the block.
  • Inspire clean up after every party by rewarding children with a prize for packing up garbage.
  • Have a block/street clean up as part of the party. Also, neighbors may want to contribute towards the cost of a truckload to the dump and use this to clean out gardens, garbage or alleys.
  • Distribute an evaluation form to participants (to get a good response, number the forms and have door prizes for returned entries).

Getting to know your neighbors

  • Identify any special people that lived in your area such as the longest resident, politician, artist, eccentric, hero, etc. Have partygoers guess who, what, where through charades and other games.
  • Have everyone bring his or her favorite family dish.
  • Use a map to indicate where everyone originally came from.

Family-friendly activities

  • Water balloon or egg toss
  • Hide and seek
  • Face painting
  • Organize a kids talent show or parade
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Pictionary or charades
  • Musical chairs
  • Invite a clown, balloon artist or magician
  • Rent a popcorn or snow cone machine

Neighborhood action

  • Discuss what issues/concerns people may have (keep this to a predetermined time: remember, a block party should be fun).
  • Establish teams to explore how to resolve the concerns.
  • Have a clean-up time.
  • Build a bench, plant a garden, and paint street numbers, etc. as part of the block party activities.

Typical restrictions

  • Alcohol is only permitted on private property, not on city streets or in parks.
  • Residents should observe security precautions, for example lock back doors to houses and keep equipment in sight.
  • Food cannot be sold on city streets unless the proper permits have been obtained. Give the food away (and there’s nothing to stop you from putting a “suggested donation” sign on the table).
  • Loud amplification of music is prohibited.
  • If you set up tables and chairs on the street, leave room for emergency vehicles.

Other resources:

An open letter from Bill Berkowitz of Community Tool Box Re: “Taking Action in Your Neighborhood”

in About Our Blocks, Resources

I got this note from UMass Professor Emeritus Bill Berkowitz earlier this week, and with his permission have posted it here so you can share your own thoughts and suggestions. Dr. Berkowitz is a writer, editor, and core team member of the Community Tool Box, the most extensive web site on community health and development on the planet (which we featured here). His books deal with skills, ideas, personal qualities, and stories relating to community organization and improvement. Bill is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and a recipient of its award for Distinguished Contributions to Practice in Community Psychology.

I’d forwarded this email to some of my contacts in the neighborhoods movement, and with their permission will be posting excerpts from their responses here as well.

Hi, Leo – Thanks very much for your April 12 note. It’s so easy to be impressed by it – both by your statement of purpose and by the people you’ve been gathering around your ideas. I surely hope your work gains momentum, takes off, and soars.

In this note, I’m sending along a concept of our own, titled “Taking Action in Your Neighborhood,” which perhaps you might reflect and comment upon.

In some ways, it’s a variation and extension of Our Blocks. Some differences are that it’s more explicitly action-oriented, and more explicitly participatory. It also structures the content by topic, rather than have the user do it via tagging. And it centralizes and gives a specific focus for much of the needed neighborhood work.

What’s here could be a rather big idea, probably calling for both synthesis of existing content and creation of some new content as well. The potential payoff, though, could be very large.

So take a look if you can, and see what you think; we’ll be very grateful to learn of your own reactions, others’ as well, whatever they may be.

We’re also very comfortable with your sharing any or all of this with your other neighborhood contacts – actually we’d encourage this, since more feedback may both help strengthen this concept, as well as Our Blocks itself, and potentially lead to mutually-beneficial collaborations.

Thanks very much again, Leo, and be talking to you.

~~ Bill

* * * * *

In response to your note and request for feedback, I’m writing to sketch out some neighborhood thoughts, and more specifically around developing a centralized “Taking Action in Your Neighborhood” resource that I’d mentioned before.

We’d certainly be interested in any of your own thoughts you might have on this, especially (if the idea has merit) for moving this idea forward. I’m also copying Jay here, since this relates pretty closely to some work he has done.

Here’s the rationale: There’s a lot of neighborhood-related stuff in print and in cyberspace, which may not be very surprising. Much of what exists is both good and useful. A lot of it can be found on Our Blocks. Some of it is on the Community Tool Box, and I’m sure also on many other sites as well.

But a real downside is that it’s scattered all over the map – so if someone is interested in a particular neighborhood topic or issue, they might find themselves looking in a lot of places, and having to patch together what they need from a bunch of different sources. This is both time-consuming and often not all that effective.