Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County's annual Block Leader Celebration was this week.

The event is a gathering to celebrate the collective work the nonprofit's block leaders have accomplished through the year.

“We had 97 folks come and enjoy a brief 30 minutes of the year’s numbers, recognition and awards, followed by a showing of the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Community Renewal Block Leader Coordinator Zoe Loeser said.

The block leader program has several goals.

“One is more obvious — Neighborhoods will flourish — but there's another goal that's less paraded about,” she said. “Trained block leaders will improve their individual well-being.”

Loeser said she uses this celebration to help leaders visualize the collective purpose and gain and receive support.

“To visualize collective purpose, I took the numbers from the year — 2688 neighbor interactions, 228 neighborhood gatherings, 1251 neighbors gathered — and represented them by putting that number of items in jars,” Loeser said. “There were 2500 puzzle pieces to say thank you for connecting, 228 cards to thank them for taking note of their neighbors, and 1251 crayons, makers, and colored pencils to thank them for bringing color and fun to their neighborhoods.”

She said at the event block leaders had a chance to guess the number of items in the jars and the closest winner won the jar.

All of those numbers, by the way, have increased over 50 percent from last year, she said.

“It was really exciting for me to see that,” Loeser said. “I was particularly excited about the increase in neighbors gathered.”

Gatherings are so important, she said, because until our neighbors come together to meet each other, it's just individual relationships.

“Numbers of neighbors gathered is also the number that block leaders have least control over,” she explained. “They can show up for their neighbors with block parties and book clubs and walking groups, they can make space for their neighbors, but they can't force their neighbors to come.”

To see block leaders not only moving toward their neighbors, but their neighbors responding in kind is evidence that, slowly but surely, this movement is catching on in our streets and changing the narrative of isolation in our community, she said.

“We also had a map of Shawnee with pictures of block leaders pinned where they live,” Loeser said.

A block leader would find their photo, tie a string around the pin, and then tie the other end of the string to another block leader who has supported them this year, she said.

“It was such a gift to see block leaders not only express gratitude for the people who helped them as block leader but to also see who they encouraged and supported,” she said. “It gives a visual to the network of caring the movement is weaving block by block across the community.”

The movie night was extra special because A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is about an iconic neighbor named Mr. Rogers — the namesake of an award of honor given by Community Renewal.

“This was the second year we've awarded the Mister Rogers Award to select block leaders who have integrated the block leader principles of Be Visible, Interact, and Gather (BIG) into their everyday lives,” Loeser said. “This year's award went to Cody Deem, Steven Choate, the Moores, and Julio and Nicole Sanchez for being BIG in their neighborhoods long before the first We Care. sign went up.”

She said it went to Reva Ingram and Vernon Lindell for doing the hard work of block leading in an apartment complex.

“It went to Chris and Amanda Basden for dreaming of a culture of caring in their newly developed neighborhood and making that dream become a reality,” she said.

It went to Justin Dunn for walking in his neighborhood every week, she said.

“It went to Francoise Reynolds for bringing her neighbors together to work through neighborhood problems,” Loeser said.

It went to Heather and Mitchell DeShazer for all their gathering efforts from NED Talks to book clubs to water balloon parties for the kiddos, she said.

“And it went to Leesa Adams for her monthly wine and women nights,” Loeser said.

The event was held at Cinema Centre 8.

“It was definitely the favorite block leader celebration so far and one to be remembered,” she said.

To learn more about Community Renewal, visit communityrenewal.org.