Serving as a neighborhood association block captain is often a demanding and thankless job. But last night, the Windsor Square Association held its annual dinner to celebrate its block captains and thank them for all they do.
The event, including drinks and dinner at the Wilshire Country Club, featured opening remarks by WSA President Larry Guzin and City Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez, and a longer program in which several longtime block captains shared examples of successful community-building techniques they’ve used on their blocks. The program was hosted by WSA board members and block captain co-chairs Angie Szentgyorgyi and Tracey Durning, and was also attended by local LAPD Olympic Division Senior Lead Officers Joe Pelayo and Daniel Chavez, LAPD Wilshire Division Captain Sonia Monico and SLO Hebel Rodriguez, and representatives of the SSA private security company, all of whom work closely with the WSA block captains on neighborhood safety and security issues.
In his remarks, Councilmember Soto-Martinez said the work the block captains do to organize their neighbors is “phenomenal,” and that he’d like to see similar systems put into practice all across the city. He said the block captains remind him of the union shop stewards he worked with during his time as a labor organizer, who really keep the workplaces going. It’s definitely a “labor of love,” he said of both positions, but he said he knows it’s also very tiring work. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the time you put in,” he said.
Finally, Soto-Martinez presented a special citation to Windsor Square resident Caroline Labiner Moser, who served for many years as a WSA block captain, as well as the president of and a board member representing Windsor Square on the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Moser has stepped back from those duties recently, and Soto-Martinez thanked her for her many years of community leadership.
Next, four current WSA block captains shared stories about tactics they’ve used to help neighbors on their blocks get to know each other and build a sense of community.
First, Durning said that when she first became a block captain, she started holding very informal “open door” parties at her home on Friday evenings, offering free margaritas and food to anyone who wanted to come. The events became a big hit she said, and helped to get people involved in the block’s neighbor network because “at the end of the day, what’s going to get you to rally around each other is to get to know each other.”
Scott Abrahamson said that when he first became a block captain, in 2012, he helped organize a big block party for the neighbors…and then in March of this year, as COVID restrictions were easing, his neighbor Martha Welborne invited all the neighbors over for drinks, and many of them showed up, renewing those old connections and the overall feeling of community spirit, which had flagged a bit during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Niloo Eskandari, who has been a block captain for more than 10 years on a large block containing more than 40 homes, said one of her neighbors once suggested a combined party and “field trip” to help get to know each other. So the neighbors met for a big party at one house, Eskandari said, and then, later in the evening, walked together up and down the block, stopping at each individual neighbor’s house to learn more about that person, their home, and their background. Eskandari said hearing the stories each neighbor told was a great way for everyone to get to know each other and to strengthen their sense of community. And now, she said, almost all of her neighbors are part of the block’s formal network.
Finally, Marcelo Ziperovich, who shares block captain duties with Szentgyorgyi, said that when their neighbors expressed interest in establishing some sort of communications network for urgent situations (e.g. break-ins, prowlers, alarms going off, etc.), they wanted something that reached people faster than email, but was less clunky than a group text. So they started an urgent-communications-only thread on What’s App, and it worked really well – whenever a message was posted, neighbors would know it was urgent, read it immediately, and react quickly. And now that the channel is well established, with at least one user in each household on the block, Ziperovich said it should also be very handy in the event of a larger disaster, too. In fact, said Ziperovich, the system has been so effective that the neighbors are now talking about creating a second, similar What’s App thread for more every day queries to their neighbors.
Here are some more images from last night’s event: