Building Healthier Communities Through Neighborhood Block Parties

A boy is playing corn hole during a PlayStreets event. People behind him are gathering and playing in the street.

Last summer, nearly 1,700 kids and parents in the South Side and Linden neighborhoods of Columbus attended PlayStreets – free community events with music, games and activities that encourage local kids and their families to get out, get active and connect with neighbors.

It’s one of the innovative initiatives Nationwide Children’s Hospital coordinates to build and strengthen central Ohio neighborhoods.

“PlayStreets is a neighborhood block party designed to get kids outside and play,” said Ed Miner, project manager Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families. “We close down a block in the neighborhood and set up activities for local kids and their families.”

Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families is a Nationwide Children’s initiative launched in 2008 with the goal of creating positive health outcomes in the community through efforts like affordable housing development and community enrichment. The organization collaborates with community partners and Bread Financial to hold PlayStreets events on certain Saturdays from May through August.

The organization first launched PlayStreets in 2019 with five events on the South Side before expanding to Linden in 2020. This year, PlayStreets has scheduled six events in each neighborhood and will hold as many as possible depending on the weather.

“These events are designed to give kids a safe place to get out and play for a few hours while giving families the opportunity to connect with each other,” said Miner.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., kids can come by themselves or with their families and engage in creative activities with Play-Doh and coloring books, or play games like basketball, cornhole, putt-putt golf and Nerf football. PlayStreets also has a DJ or a live band playing music, free mini pizzas, an ice cream truck and, occasionally, a petting zoo.

In 2020, unable to hold live events due to the pandemic, Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families held “PlayStreets in a Box.” The organization distributed 100 boxes packed with items like crayons, sidewalk chalk, bubbles and frisbees with a certificate for a free movie rental and a gift card to Donatos Pizza. PlayStreets resumed with ten live events in 2021 and another ten in 2022 – five events per neighborhood.

Coordinating all the volunteers, activities, equipment rentals and food vendors is a year-round effort for Miner and his team. On the morning of each event, volunteers load up the equipment in a rented truck, set up all the tents and activities, and then tear everything down and load it back up at the end of the day. Thanks to financial support from community partners, Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families has been able to buy much of its own equipment, including tents, traffic barriers and a sound system. Many of the volunteers are Nationwide Children’s employees.

“A lot of people who work at the hospital don't work directly with kids or only work with kids when they're sick,” explained Miner. “It's a great opportunity for volunteers to connect with the people we serve through the hospital in a different kind of way.”

PlayStreets events also give community members a chance to meet and connect with each other. “These aren't huge events with people from all over the city,” said Miner. “They're small enough that kids play with each other and parents talk to each other.”

According to a Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families survey, parents reported that PlayStreets has helped them feel more connected to other parents in their community.

“At Nationwide Children's, we're interested in engaging with the families in our communities in a broader way than just providing clinical care,” said Miner. “Parents appreciate that the hospital is doing something in their neighborhood that is fun for their kids.”

Miner says it’s possible Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families may expand PlayStreets events to other Columbus neighborhoods in the future. For now, the organization is focused on growing the events in Linden and South Side. This summer, PlayStreets held its largest event ever with more than 250 attendees.

“We're building a reputation for running fun, safe events,” said Miner. “If the weather holds out, there are going to be over 2,000 total participants at all our events this year.”

According to Miner, PlayStreets events are part of Nationwide Children’s efforts to address and improve social determinants of health in local communities. These non-medical factors, which include neighborhood environments and social and community context, account for 80% of a person’s health outcomes.

“It's more than just play,” said Miner. “These events demonstrate that we care about building relationships and being present for the kids and parents who live in our communities.”

Ed Miner

“At Nationwide Children's, we're interested in engaging with the families in our communities in a broader way than just providing clinical care. Parents appreciate that the hospital is doing something in their neighborhood that is fun for their kids.”

Ed Miner, Project Manager, Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families