Neighbors meet neighbors at Rutland block party
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | July 12,2013
Albert J. marro / Staff Photo
Orla Dundas, left, chats with Rutland City police officer Damon Nguyen during Thursday's block party on Roberts Avenue in Rutland. Dundas came up with the idea for people in the neighborhood to get to know one another. 07/11/13
Residents in part of the city’s northwest neighborhood used ice cream, flowers, face paint and conversations as a starting point for fighting crime.
Following a strategy that calls for strengthening neighborhoods by bringing residents and police closer to each other, dozens of people living on streets near Rutland Intermediate School converged Thursday evening on 50 Roberts Ave. to make introductions with the people living near them.
“One thing I’ve found in the city is that people are fearful of one another,” said Orla Dundas, who organized the event in her front yard. “It’s that fear that needs to be broken. People have forgotten how to talk to one another. This is about building relationships.”
Leading up to the block party Dundas went door to door in the area, introducing herself and pitching her idea for a party that would both entertain and allow for introductions.
For entertainment, there was ice cream sundaes provided by Stewarts convenience stores, flower pot decorations and face-painting for the kids.
But the main attraction for most of the adults was the conversations and the chance to meet people they had seen often but never spoken to on the street.
Melissa Lawyer, who moved onto Roberts Avenue from Orwell last year with her family, said she had been itching for the kind of social interaction with her neighbors that she took for granted in the country.
“In Orwell everyone knew everyone else’s name and then we came here and it’s different,” Lawyer said. “Here, everyone keeps to themselves.”
Rick Sorensen said he felt the same way.
Ten years after moving to Rutland from Wyoming, Sorensen said he still notices the different ways that residents in Rutland — and New England in general — interact.
“When you walk by someone out there they say ‘hi.’ Here, people look down and keep walking,” he said. “I’ve learned that it’s harder to get to know people but once you do, there are good people here.”
Getting to know the neighbors is seen by those fighting drugs and crime in Rutland as more than just good manners.
As part of a community intervention strategy that aims to reduce the drug trade by changing the environment it thrives in, city officials such as Police Chief James Baker — who mingled on Roberts Avenue along with many of his officers Thursday — has said that beautification projects such as planting flowers and functions like block parties are as essential as police patrols.
Irene Goebel, who walked to the party from Seabury Street, said she’s already taken some of that advice to heart by working with neighbors on her street to keep an eye on each others’ homes.
She said she came to the block party Thursday because she wanted to broaden her neighborhood.
“I’d love to see a neighborhood watch,” she said. “I’ve had small things stolen from my yard and I and my neighbor both had our windows shot out last winter. I’m careful about where I leave stuff but the paranoias still there. We as neighbors need to watch each others houses.”