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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Porch parties offer a way for strangers to become friends

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Warm weather is here in Indianapolis and that means the return of porch parties in the Herron-Morton neighborhood and surrounding areas. In its sixth year, porch parties are now a staple in this historic Indianapolis neighborhood and has become key in neighbors getting to know one another while enjoying great food and music. 

In 2013, Harrison Art Center Director Joanna Taft realized that after more than 20 years of living at 20th and New Jersey streets, she didn’t really know her neighbors. She’d gotten to know the families adjacent to her but didn’t know much about the people who walked their dogs in the area every morning or the kids who rode their bikes home from school. So, she took the small gathering her next-door neighbors and she participated in for six years and decided to blow it up in a big way.

“The Harrison Center launched a #PorchPartyIndy initiative and invited all the neighbors in Herron Morton Place to ‘porch’,” she recalled. “We chose one day, about 30 porches participated. Next, we partnered with Urban Times newspaper and invited those 11 partner neighborhoods. Hundreds signed up.”

A porch party is exactly what it sounds like. Every Sunday afternoon, homeowners in different neighborhoods fire up the grills, buy some drinks, sweet treats, break out the hammocks and lawn chairs and invite the entire neighborhood to hang out on their porch. These parties are set up so multiple homes can host a party at the same time, allowing guests to wander from house to house. Taft says it’s important that there are no restrictive rules to “porching” (what the neighborhood lovingly calls it). Some porchers have games like cornhole or a card table set up for a friendly game of spades, others just put out chairs so neighbors can grab a seat and chat about their upcoming week.

When people began flocking to these parties, Taft knew she created something special. Three years ago, they partnered with Indianapolis Motor Speedway to expand the initiative around the state. So far, 52 of Indiana’s 92 counties have participated.

Although all neighborhoods are invited, this year Taft’s neighborhood is focusing on the Hillside, Kennedy-King and Herron-Morton neighborhoods. The goal is to build partnerships between these three neighborhoods because of the diversity each one offers. She believes they can be stronger together. Residents in each of the areas switch off hosting in their neighborhood each week.  

“There has been a lot of conversation in our city and across the country about how we can understand each other better,” Taft said. “I want all residents of these different neighborhoods to find community together. Recently Herron-Morton rebranded their neighborhood. They decided they wanted to be known for arts, diversity and porching. I suggested to them that they might want to consider partnering with other neighborhoods to enhance the diversity of their community. That is how the partnership between [the three neighborhoods] came about. The results have been very rich. There are older residents in Hillside who know the story of the neighborhood and can share it, and the neighborhoods are located near each other so they can work together to get the city to address problems. There are many benefits.”

Kennedy-King neighborhood resident Kimberly Burton says she’s glad this partnership is taking place. She began porching around 2008 before Colts games on Sunday afternoons, but has continued to do it even during the off season because of the connections she’s made.

“I think knowing our neighbors helps us care for one another and to be a bit like family for each other, regardless of where we live,” she said. 

Taft says anyone can create their own porch party in their neighborhood and no, a front porch is not needed. If your neighborhood hasn’t been active in #PorchPartyIndy or even if you’re out in the suburbs, Taft believes all you need is a willingness to start.

“I read a story about a woman who lives in the suburbs in Texas and she put a purple picnic table in her front yard to encourage her neighborhood to connect!” Taft said. “I believe when we are connected, we are healthy. When people are connected in neighborhoods, the neighborhood is healthy. When neighborhoods are healthy, our city is healthy.”

(l-r) Tom Melangton, Indy 500, Vernon Compton, Nabil Ince, and Joanna Taft all pose on the porch of Joanna Lenoir on Columbia Avenue during a porch party with a race theme.  (Photo/Jerome Brewster)

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