Fully equipped with a spatula, sunglasses, hat and an apron, Darcel Harris was all smiles Sept. 15 as she answered questions, cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and helped coordinate activities for over 300 folks who attended the 11th annual Pennsylvania Avenue – Tristreet Association block party in Dutterer Family Park in Westminster.
The event included multi-cultural food dishes made by residents, local fruits and vegetables donated by local farmers, dancing, pie eating contests, and educational activities for children provided by the Westminster Police Department, the Carroll County NAACP and GROW Mission (God's Regeneration of Westminster) – one of the many local grassroots community organizations in which Harris participates.
According to Harris, the March 2013 recipient of the of the 21st annual Carroll County Human Relations Commission achievement award, the neighborhood get together was the brainchild of former Westminster City Councilwoman, 1991-1995, Rebecca Orenstein.
Orenstein, 71, recently passed away on Aug. 31.
Over the years, many community leaders including Lori Graham and Josie Velazquez have worked with the city of Westminster to hold the event to celebrate the diversity of the tri-street area that encompasses West Main Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and Union Street.
The Tristreet Association can trace its roots back to approximately 2004, when it grew out of "Drug Action02," an organization spearheaded by Orenstein in 2002 – the same year that local leaders initially put together the block party.
Harris noted that the name changed as local community organizers wanted to place more emphasis on celebrating the diversity – and unity, of the neighborhood.
Drug Action02 had originally took root from activism in the community in the late 1990s to combat drug activity, crime and deteriorated housing and quality of life issues that had begun to plague what was once one of the most fashionable and exclusive mixed-use business and residence areas of town.
At the turn of the century around 1900, Pennsylvania Avenue was the business center of Westminster. The area fell upon hard times in the latter part of the century after a change in zoning on November 5, 1979 discouraged businesses from staying on Pennsylvania Avenue. As a result many business families moved out of town to larger country properties and many of the large homes built at the turn of the century by business leaders were divided into apartments by absentee landlords.
For many years, the neighborhood block party was held on Pennsylvania Avenue, which was blocked-off for the event. Later, the party was moved to the 6.5-acre Dutterer Family Park.
The park features a $117,000 brick pavilion, bathrooms and picnic table area which was completed in January 2002, which finalized the creation of what was known at the time as Westminster's "showcase park," thanks to the Dutterer family "which saved the property from becoming a 75-unit housing development in 1994," according to a January 2002 article in the Baltimore Sun.
Today, the "Tristreet is a diverse area… It's a wonderful area of town," said Harris as she flipped hamburgers and strained to hear questions over the sounds of laughter and dancing to hip-hop music blaring the "Wobble Dance," from the pavilion behind her.
"Here, (at the block party,) we get to meet each other so we know who our neighbors are…"
Harris paused to field a few questions from Gamma Sigma Sigma service sorority sisters, Kenisha Farrare and Serena Hueitt were at the event with five other sorority sisters to lend a hand. They belong to one of the two service organizations up at McDaniel College, APO and Gamma Sigma Sigma that volunteer in the community.
Westminster Police Score volunteers Lee Shaffer and Deborah Pujals Keyser helped Westminster Police Department Sgt. Keith Benfer staff an information booth at the party.
"The neighborhood party is a good way to get the community out… and a great opportunity for the Westminster Police Department to make friends and build relationships," said Benfer.
Keyser, who is multi-lingual, was helping a gaggle of youngsters who had gathered at the booth, in Spanish. “¡Ha sido un maravilloso dia compartiendo con la comunidad!,” said Keyser before she looked-up and added, “Oh, it has been a great day to spend time with the community.”
When he is not savoring the last days of summer with a hot dog and lots of mustard, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.