The Strong Block Program |
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The Strong Block Program

The Strong Block Program


Building a Safer, Happier and More Connected Community from the Block Up!

The Strong Block Program offers folks with a fun and meaningful way to increase their capacity to support the needs of their household and their neighbors, especially the vulnerable, during times of stress.


The program transforms one of America’s most popular community building activities, the block party, into a capacity building exercise for establishing a team of neighbors that can activate quickly and provide the help neighbors need to safely evacuate or shelter in place when emergencies occur.


The Challenge

Across America, communities are being struck by fast moving, large scale shocks that exceed the ability for the first responder community to meet the immediate needs of every vulnerable resident when they need help.  Wildfires, tornadoes, power outages and heatwaves all challenge folks to either evacuate on a moment’s notice or shelter in place for extended periods of time until the threat has passed.


In the true spirit of community, neighbors have historically stepped up to be there for each other when it matters most. Often, however, there are barriers that prevent them from being able to meet their neighbor’s needs.  They can include their neighbor’s access and functional needs may which may require a higher level of expertise to support or they may not have a relationship with a sufficient level of trust that allows a vulnerable neighbor to accept any help.


The challenge is identifying a way to advance the capacity of residents to work as a team to meet their neighbors’ needs, regardless of their condition, while at the same time increasing the level of connection and trust amongst everyone on the block.  Additionally, whatever solution that is identified has to be highly scalable, generate sustained readiness and, most of all, be fun.


The Solution

In 2016, the NEN set out to tackle this challenge and arrived at the simplest of solutions. The Block Party.  Called Neighborfest, this program leverages residents’ inherent desire to connect with their immediate neighbors in a fun, celebratory manner to generate the sense of community that has been essential to our success since our earliest time as a species.  Via its playbook, the Neighborfest provides a suite of strategies and resources that not only help the host committee produce a fun, inclusive and safe block party, but also passively trains them on how to assemble a team, craft and implement a plan, achieve basic care and shelter skills and increase the level of trust and social cohesion amongst neighbors.


After three years of pilots, early assessments showed that hosts felt that the program did increase their block’s overall readiness (87%) and connectivity (57%).


Learn more about Neighborfest at its program page


The Test

In 2020, the ultimate test for Neighborfest presented itself.  The COVID 19 pandemic forced millions of high risk Americans to shelter in place in order to reduce their exposure to the virus.  As a result,  their ability to secure the resources they needed to survive was severely curtailed as well as the level of social interaction they normally experienced.  The threat to their physical and mental health was clear and traditional first responder services will unable to support these resident’s ongoing care and shelter needs due to the number of impacted individuals and their distributed locations. 

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed called upon residents to reach out to their neighbors and offer their support to those in need. The response was phenomenal.  For many, the efforts reaped immediate rewards for both the person in need and their supporters.  However, in some cases at risk residents lacked the social connectivity with their neighbors to be able to fully address the impact of the lockdown.  For the NEN, the question was “Did the Neighborfest Program make a difference for its participants”


The Proof

In May of 2020, the NEN teamed up with The University of San Francisco’s Masters of Public Health Program to conduct a detailed assessment of the performance of the Neighborfest Program during the initial phase of the Covid 19 Pandemic.  The team comprised of interns Lauren Poffenbarger and Sarah Jane McCall led by USF Faculty Advisor Wanda Borges, PhD. USF interviewed over two dozen Neighborfest hosts and collected some impressive data.


Pre-Event Capacity Building Benefit

100% of hosts believed that the relationship building component of Neighborfest made it easier to identify neighbors that either needed help or could help those around them while they shelter in place during COVID-19

81% of hosts believed that Neighborfest significantly elevated the level of social cohesion within their communities.

86% of hosts felt that Neighborfest did enhance their community’s preparedness for the COVID-19 SIP orders.

80% of hosts felt that Neighborfest was effective in preparing hosts to assemble teams for COVID-19


Response Capacity Building Benefit

86% of  hosts reported that they initiated response in their neighborhoods.

48% of hosts provided support on a weekly basis.

27% of hosts provided support as needed.

76% of hosts reported that they felt prepared for every situation that they encountered when In addressing the needs of their neighbors

71% of hosts knew of others in their community who initiated a response – Out of these hosts, 87% reported connecting and collaborating with those community members to respond to needs during COVID-19 SIP.

62% of hosts reported identifying new local resources while the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders were in effect.


Lessons Learned

While the performance of the Neighborfest hosts was nothing less than inspiring, the reality is that the needs of the vulnerable neighbors and the conditions the supporters were operating under were not as complicated as they would be under the circumstances generated by a larger shock.  For example, a massive earthquake would disrupt almost every system, from utilities to emergency services, that vulnerable residents rely on to protect their health every day.  Neighbors coming to their assistance would be challenged with scenarios that would offer the most seasoned first responder with barriers in meeting the impacted resident’s needs.  The community leadership of the NEN has determined that a new layer of guidance is needed for the Neighborfest host committee to leverage when they activate to support their neighbors during times of stress.


Moving Forward

The NEN, in partnership with its community partners, the Earthquake Country Alliance, Livable City and more has secured funding to create a new post disaster playbook called the Block Response Team (BRT) Playbook. The goal of the BRT playbook is to provide the Neighborfest host committee, and any spontaneous volunteers, with simple and easy to use guidance for supporting the needs of neighbors as they either attempt to evacuate or shelter in place quickly.  Guidance will include:

  • How to assemble a team
  • Conduct a block/household assessment
  • Craft a response plan
  • Conduct wellness checks
  • Provide care and shelter support in a safe / sustainable manner
  • Coordinate with local first responders


The Strong Block Program

The NEN is excited to introduce the Strong Block Program which fuses the pre-event capacity building of Neighborfest with the post-disaster guidance of the Block Response Team playbook.  The goal over time is to offer participants with an ever growing suite of in person, virtual and on-demand trainings and resources that will give them access to the very latest strategies, resources and guidances for building a stronger and more resilient community from the block up.

Neighborhood Empowerment Network is a cross sector cohort of city-wide resident leaders, community & faith based organizations, city agencies, private sector stakeholders, academic and philanthropic institutions that align their expertise, programs, technical and financial resources to advance the development of tools, resources and methods that empower communities to strengthen their capacity to advance their resilience goals.