CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Side of Charleston more often than not gets branded as the negative news side of town, but Thursday’s West Side Block Party is one big effort to get people talking positively and looking towards the future.
The block party, which is open to the public — it’s a block party after all — takes place from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School, at 100 Florida St.
The event began as an effort of the Charleston Police Department’s Drug Market Intervention Initiative, led by Capt. Kim Mitchell. Then, the West Virginia State Economic Development Center (EDC), an innovative West Side hub devoted to new ideas and economic and community transformation, added its energy to the mix.
That partnership helps explain the broad range of events, from demonstrations of police dogs in action and table after table of community resources, to a talent show, a Lego robotics station, drones and other EDC-inspired activities.
“I think there’s going to be plenty for everybody to do,” said Mitchell, who expects upwards of 300 people at the event.
When she first brought the idea of hosting the block party at the elementary school to Principal Johnny Ferrara, he said the event should look ahead. “He thought it was a great idea. He thought one of the themes ought to be the future.”
One key element in improving the life of a community and looking towards a better future is to get people communicating, Mitchell said. “This is just one way to get people talking to each other.”
There will be many community resources on hand with display tables.
“Let’s say there is a needy family in that area and one of our resources tables are able to meet that need,” she said. “It might be a resource they didn’t even know about.
“The other thing is to just get everybody out having fun, realizing how good the West Side is. The communication and engagement, meeting somebody new — the more people you know, then if you do need help the easier it is to find a solution.”
The EDC recently launched a West Side SHARE initiative, in which young people work with adult mentors to help unite organizations on the West Side and to come up with new and innovative ideas that will improve the quality of life in the area and to help “rebrand” it.
At the Block Party, the EDC will host an Innovation Mini-Fair titled “Dreamers and Doers.”
“This is the first block party dedicated to creative and innovation economy culture change,” said Sarah Halstead, co-founder of Create W.Va. and a self-described “social entrepreneur.”
“Block parties are a common thing on the West Side, but block parties designed by other kids who are interested in community and economic transformation are not,” she said.
“We will have a huge Lego build area, robots and tablets for kids to play with, Lego robotics stations, drones, and we are encouraging people to bring their inventions out, and also the things they tinker with.”
The EDC also will host a talent show at the block party, with Emilee Pyrtle, a Winfield High School student who works on the West Side SHARE initiative helping out.
“I will be somewhat of a stage manager,” said Pyrtle.
Any young West Siders interested in online creativity might also buttonhole Pyrtle to ask about what she does online. She has posted more than 100 videos and is a video blogger — a “vlogger” — with her own YouTube program, “Life as Emilee,” (find it at youtube.com/user/lifeasemilee), which recounts her thoughts, experiences and viewpoints on subjects drawn from her life.
A number of area churches will help with the block party, among them the Park Avenue Church of Christ, Calvary Baptist and the Maranatha Fellowship, which Mitchell said will bring its food truck.
“There’s going to be a little bit of everything,” she said. “If you get there and don’t like one thing, just go a couple more feet and there might be something that you’ll like to see.”
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