Westminster celebrates its diversity at annual block party [Column]

Fully equipped with a spatula, sunglasses, hat and an apron, Dr. Darcel Harris was all smiles last Sunday as she answered questions, cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and helped coordinate activities for more than 300 attendees at 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, fruits and vegetables donated by local farmers, dancing and pie eating contests. There were also educational activities for children provided by the Westminster Police Department, the Carroll County NAACP and GROW Mission (God's Regeneration of Westminster).

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, Rebecca Orenstein, 71, who passed away on Aug. 31.

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 in 1979 discouraged businesses from staying on Pennsylvania Avenue. As a result, many business families moved out of town and many of the large homes built by business leaders were divided into apartments by absentee landlords.

Over the years, many community leaders, including Lori Graham and Josie Velazquez, have worked with the City of Westminster to hold the event that celebrates the diversity of the 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 that began in 2002. That was the same year that local leaders initially put together the block party.

For 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.

Today, "Tristreet is a diverse area," 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. "It's a wonderful area of town.

"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 McDaniel College Gamma Sigma Sigma service sorority sisters Kenisha Farrare and Serena Hueitt, who were at the event with five other sorority sisters to lend a hand.

Westminster Police volunteers Lee Shaffer and Deborah Pujals Keyser helped Sgt. Keith Benfer of the Westminster Police Department staff an information booth at the party.

Keyser, who is multi-lingual, helped a gaggle of youngsters who had gathered at the booth, in Spanish.

"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," Benfer said.

When he is not savoring the last days of summer with a hot dog, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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