There’s a lot of newness happening in the Mendota and Leopold neighborhoods. And this month, both neighborhoods will celebrate with food, fun and bounce houses.

Last spring, both neighborhood elementary schools were designated as “community schools,” hubs of a number of services for families well beyond elementary education, including health care, academic tutoring, mentoring, food access or parent leadership opportunities.

As those deeper community commitments ramp up with the start of school next month, community organizations — including Madison365 — are working together to throw back-to-school block parties to gather neighbors for an afternoon of food and fun — and the chance to learn more about what the community schools have to offer.

Organizers will also use the gatherings to ask neighborhood residents what they love about their neighborhoods and what they think could be better. Both events are the first of their kind.

Leopold_EventThe Leopold event, set for 11 am – 2 pm on Saturday, August 20, grew out of conversations between The Bridge Madison pastor Josh MIller, who came to Madison four years ago, and Madison365 CEO Henry Sanders, a lifelong Madisonian.

“I was passionate because the (Leopold) neighborhood is everything,” Miller said. “It has every race you can imagine, every economic background you can imagine. All races, different languages coming together.”

Given social and economic challenges, though, Miller also wanted to gather neighbors to discuss community issues.

“I was thinking about surveys and having a meeting at the school,” Miller said, but realized those strategies have been tried before. “You get the same 20 or 25 well-intentioned people,” he said, and don’t learn very much that’s new.

Over lunch with Sanders, though, it became clear that the two had a common interest in gathering community and getting  neighbors talking.

“Madison365 is all about giving people a voice,” Sanders said. “People who’ve never had a voice before. To do that we have to offer new ways, new times and spaces for people to say their piece. These events are the perfect opportunity to do that.”

To that end, Madison365 will bring a video crew to each event and spend time asking a few simple questions. “Stuff like hey, what’s your favorite thing about your neighborhood? What would you change about your neighborhood if you had a magic wand?” Miller said. Madison Metropolitan School District staff and other community leaders will then use the answers to help plan the kinds of services they will offer at the community schools.

Of course it’s not just about gathering data — it’s also about having a great time.

“I think finding shared celebration is vital,” said Miller. “A lot of times we only gather when something is going wrong or when it’s mandated. School is great, it brings everyone together, but it’s mandatory. When you bring people together in joy, something powerful happens.”

The Leopold event will feature a 3-on-3 basketball tournament with day-of registration, live DJ, family games, bounce house and more.

Mendota organizers echoed that sentiment.

mendota_blockParty“We wanted to have an event to kick off the school year and celebrate becoming a community school,” said Stacy Broach, Mendota Elementary’s community school coordinator. “There’s not a lot of things that bring the North Side community together in a positive way. We thought it’d be a good idea.”

Broach said School Road will be closed for the event on August 27, which runs from 1 to 5 pm. In addition to plenty of food, the event will feature live performances, bounce house, family games and resource tables.

Broach said she expects “a legitimate number of people” to attend. “A lot of the residents are really excited about it.

For updates and to invite friends, follow the events on Facebook: