Neighbors co-host party

Nearly 2,000 people attended the fourth annual neighborhood West End/Foggy Bottom Block Party Sunday in the I Street Mall, organizers said.

This year almost 100 vendors reserved booths for the event including businesses in Foggy Bottom, University departments and community groups. GW funded the event, and FRIENDS, a group of Foggy Bottom/West End community members and GW officials who meet monthly to discuss University and community issues, organized it.

Assistant Vice President for District of Columbia Affairs Bernard Demczuck said his office, the Government, Foggy Bottom and West End Affairs Office, coordinated with FRIENDS to plan the event.

“The citizens of Foggy Bottom don’t have the logistical ability to organize this, so we do it,” Demczuck said.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he came to the block party to mingle.

“I think it’s marvelous,” Trachtenberg said. “A lot of credit has to go out to Michael Akin. For 20 years, GW has been reaching out, and it’s nice to have the community reach back.”

Michael Akin, director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom Affairs, said the party was a celebration of the increased communication between the community and GW facilitated by monthly FRIENDS meetings.

“Things have gotten so much more positive,” he said. “It is a great forum to sit in good faith and talk about the issues, and this block party is a physical representation of community and GW working together.”

“It’s good to bring the community together and bridge the gap between the University and Foggy Bottom,” said GW medical student Rob Ward, who was not planning to attend but dropped by the event anyway.

Representatives from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Ralph and Lois Patterson, said they strongly supported the group organizing the event.

“Before FRIENDS, we didn’t know all the stuff going on in the community,” said Lois Patterson, who is a member of FRIENDS. “Now GW does a much better job of outreach, and communication is so much better.”

Foggy Bottom resident Ron Lehaer started FRIENDS in 2002 by inviting GW officials to his Columbia Plaza apartment to meet with other community members to try to address problematic issues. The next month, GW officials and more community members met, and the meetings led to the formation of FRIENDS, Lehaer said.

He added that the he arranged the meetings because he felt that the FBA was ineffective and he wanted to initiate discourse.

“I never saw such vengeance against a University,” Lehaer said. “Anything GW would try to do to be positive, they’d be against. GW has so many things that can help.”

Membership in the group is more than 350, and about 65 members attend each monthly meeting.

Doris Tarone, a member of FRIENDS, agreed with Lehaer and said FRIENDS helps to facilitate positive community contact.

“I can’t understand why some people have such animosity to GW,” she said. “There are so many opportunities with speakers and lectures, and I just love the students. They make me feel younger.”

FBA President Joy Howell said she did not attend the event this year, but went last year. She said she had no problems with the block party but stressed GW’s involvement.

“I think block parties are great and FRIENDS are a GW-sponsored group,” Howell said. “You can’t tell if it really represents the community unless you go.”

Musical acts performed at a stage in the center of the I Street Mall throughout the event. Bands included Code Blue, a group consisting of GW doctors; Sons of Pitch, a GW a ceppella group and the Departments of Theater and Dance.

Foggy Bottom resident Rob Campanell said that he and his 2-year-old son Jay enjoyed the Theater and Dance performance of showtunes the most.

“I really like the theater singing,” he said.

Campanell added that while his son enjoyed the free popcorn from the University Police Department, he enjoyed mingling with his neighbors most.

He said, “What I liked about it was I got to meet some people and some of the organizations and see what’s going on.”

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