That request was made after the officers handed out a list of planned social events somewhat bereft of events explicitly child-friendly: a Mardi Gras Mixer, Pink Flamingo Happy Hour, Progressive Dinner, Chili Cook Off, Sip 'N Stroll. Those are all lovely events I'm sure, but they seem designed more for empty nesters or for parents with babysitters on constant call rather than for those of us who are committed to spending time with our children. I have experienced the Salemtown Halloween Block Party, which is apparently on for 2015, too. While it did not deter the number of kids that came through for candy, it was organized more as a street festival for the concert-and-beer crowd. The "kids tent" was a single table under a small awning.
I thought the officers could have taken the criticism more constructively than they did. They basically told the parent that she should participate in the social committee if she wanted to see more kid-friendly events because none of the members of the social committee have children. I believe that the suggestion was made with good intentions, but it did not come across as a constructive suggestion to me.
I should be perfectly honest and say that this was not the first time I have seen coolness expressed by empty nesters toward families with children in Salemtown. Across 10 years it has been a challenge at times and with some exceptions to convince them to either co-sponsor or join in more kid-friendly events. At times parents here have organized events on our own the absence of association sponsorship. We've had outings to parks and water parks. We've gone to get ice cream. We've attended puppet shows at the public library. In the fall we've gone to scout pumpkins at Farmers Market. One of our more popular regular events we organized apart from SNNA in the past was our "Kid Klatch" events. They were generally at Morgan Park, but one time we had a "Jane's Walk" to Bicentennial Mall ending with a picnic and kite-flying.
While SNNA may have a knack for planning adult-oriented events, I believe our association can do a better job of sponsoring and incorporating kid-friendly events. Here are a few suggestions:
- Rather than obliging parents to join a committee if they want to see events that their children can attend, invite the parents to meet with the social committee one-time or in a short series of coffees or lunches, kids in tow, so that the committee can get feedback for planning. Who knows, a couple of parents might take charge of their own suggestions to the committee. It is generally not effective or sensitive to tell people who suggest social events that they join the association's social committee. The reason we have committees is to divide the organizing labor and it becomes unrealistic to oblige every person who makes suggestions to join the committee. The committee would be come ridiculously and cumbersomely large under such logic. The social committee should field ideas on how to make their slate stronger, not dismiss those who cannot or will not serve.
- Put SNNA in front of the parade. If you don't produce social events for families with children, the parents are likely to go ahead and organize them without you. We did 3 years ago when we started to feel less support from the association. I have been to fewer and fewer Salemtown Neighbors social events since 2012, because frankly I want to spend my free time with family members. Until it sinks in at SNNA that they can actually get more Salemtown families to attend by attracting them with kid-friendly events, then I'll not likely attend many adult-oriented ones as I have in the distant past. To put it more positively: find events that parents are already planning and ask if the association can do anything to assist. Get SNNA's name on the event. What can it hurt?
- Use child-friendly social events as a tool to expand membership. I've lived here 10 years. Salemtown, unlike Germantown, has always had bunches of kids around the neighborhood. It is true now, more than ever. Daily in warmer weather I see young couples walking by with strollers. At times I wonder if we are undergoing a baby boom. Other parents on my block have play days for the kids that their kids go to school with. SNNA has to make more of an effort to attract these families and keep them in Salemtown. No one is asking empty nesters to open up their homes for our kids to barrel around their fragile decorations. But SNNA officers need to find a way to reach out to families with children, if for no other reason that it makes the association stronger and more diverse.
- Promote diversity. An urban neighborhood is generationally diverse when it has children as well as young adults, retirees, and middle aged-empty nesters. If Salemtown were a neighborhood exclusively dominated by empty nesters, it would be a tedious and boring place. I'm speaking as a person who did not have his first child until the age of 29; as one who will be an empty-nester once again in less than a decade. Any neighborhood worth its salt needs the presence of some children for enrichment.
- Express mutual interest by showing up once in a while. I have attended events in Salemtown to celebrate someone's promotion, birthday, engagement, marriage, move-in, move-out and a host of other special occasions that were important for me to support. On the other side of the ledger, I don't recall empty nesters showing up to one of my kid's basketball games or her art shows or her theater performances. I am not expressing resentment in that statement. I'm merely pointing out that one hand washes the other. It is unrealistic to expect parents to continue to find a babysitter to celebrate your milestones when you won't calendar and attend to those of their children. Mutuality, by definition, goes both ways.
I offer these suggestions in a spirit of engagement, because I firmly believe in enhancing the quality of life in Salemtown. Yes, our sociality is enhanced by Mardi Gras mixers, but it is also enhanced by puppet shows.