University City

YMCA block party has international theme

From pizza to Pakistani, the international cuisine was delicious.

From pediatrics to performers, the crowds had plenty to observe, learn about and experience.

Imminent rainstorms held off long enough for the University City YMCA to entertain an estimated 700-800 visitors at the International Block Party Festival last Saturday afternoon.

A wide assortment of vendors and informational booths combined with rotating performances on the pavilion stage and a playground with inflatable toys provided amusement for kids of all ages at the 10th annual event.

YMCA staff were aided by a large crew of helpers, including about 50 volunteers from title sponsor TIAA-CREF.

"The YMCA is known as a place where people can come together and be appreciated for who they are, so this program highlights what everybody can bring to our community," said University City YMCA Executive Director Paul Petr, 44.

With music accompanying dancers from India, belly-dancing groups, skip-ropers, steppers and other acts, the crowd milled around the playgrounds tasting cuisine as rare as Pakistani samosas and Jamaican jerk or as comforting as a hot slice of pizza or an ear of grilled corn. Much of the food was free or available for donations.

Carolina's Health Care and other medical service providers offered give-aways and health care materials, police spokesmen handed out anti-crime coloring books and gunlocks, and vendors sold arts and crafts from Africa, the Caribbean and other locales.

Aziz Ahmed and family provided the taste of Pakistan.

"When we say we are Pakistani, all the bells go off in people's heads, thinking of all the negative things, so this is to display our cuisine, sure, but also to show that we are just regular people, with jobs and families, just like you," said Ahmed, 45.

Pakistan and its neighbor India may have trouble getting along in the real world, but at the Block Party, the two complemented each other quite well, at least with cuisine choices. Just in front of the Pakistani booth with its savory and slightly spicy offerings, Stonebridge Church Community was handing out free samples of traditional Indian sweets.

Brent Jones explained that his church, off Prosperity Church Road, was building a boarding school in India for lower-caste homeless children; thus the connection to the Indian treats.

"The University area has such a great community here and such a diverse international community, so we just want to get everyone together and celebrate that," said Jason Lampton, marketing director for the University City YMCA.

"Remember, multicultural means all cultures, including American, so we open this up to anybody, not just international groups," said Lampton, 36.

The event brings the community together and helps raise funds to underwrite other YMCA activities.

"The Y doesn't turn anyone away, so we use the funds raised here to offer financial assistance to make it possible for any kid to be able to join our programs," said Lampton.

The University City YMCA offers swimming and water safety programs, indoor and outdoor sports activities, preschool and after-school care, summer day camps and other activities to promote spiritual, mental and physical health.