National Night Out resources and ideas

in community engagement, Organizing, Resident Associations, Safety

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

Mapping the Assets of Your Community: A Key Component for Building Local Capacity

in community engagement, Organizing, Resident Associations, Safety

From the abstract to Mapping the Assets of Your Community: A Key Component for Building Local Capacity , by Lionel J. Beaulieu, Southern Rural Development Center:

Asset mapping is an effective tool for understanding the wealth of talent and resources that exists in each community–even those with small populations or suffering from poverty and economic distress. The long-term development of a community rests on its ability to uncover and build on the strengths and assets of its people, institutions, and informal organizations.

View Oakland Resource Map in a larger map

[This is an example of an asset map using Google Maps. I found a user-generated map, put together in 2009 by someone identified only as Meghan, then added more resources, mainly in West Oakland. Took me about 30 minutes. - Leo]

Five steps are presented for applying the asset mapping model. The beginning point involves an effort to map the community’s assets, including the talents of local residents and emerging leaders (pdf), local institutions (pdf), informal community and neighborhood organizations (pdf), and existing community leaders (pdf) who are committed to building a more vibrant community.

Next, relationships should be built between residents, institutions, and informal groups. This involves providing opportunities for emerging leaders to have an active voice in long-term economic development strategies for the community.

Step 3 involves mobilizing these identified resources for economic development.

Step 4 is convening the community to develop a shared vision for the future. This requires active discussions, debates, and disagreements that identify which priority issues need to be dealt with first.

Finally, outside resources that can support local priority activities should be located. Communities that have local partnerships firmly established can ensure that outside resources are used to support the community’s priorities.

[A 36-slide PowerPoint presentation that accompanies this workbook is available for download here]

Block parties

in community engagement, Organizing, Resident Associations, Safety

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: