Brotherly Love on Haight Avenue
The Haighters forge friendships and families that last a lifetime.
The Haight Avenue neighbors believe in helping out each other—always.
Photo courtesy of Alison Taggart Barone
Leslie VanEvery and her husband and daughter have lived on the 300 block of Haight Avenue since 2008. VanEvery feels lucky to have landed on a block with a history of turning neighbors into friends.
“Our daughter has lots of kids that she can play with on the block and therefore is always outside running around and having fun,” VanEvery said. “It reminds me of my own childhood, one that is harder and harder to find in today’s society.”
The block’s unmatched community spirit started 20 years ago with a party that has grown in size and fame each year, involving every home on the 300 block. Out of this signature event the “Haighters,” as they call themselves, have initiated everything from Friday night porch parties, annual camping trips, and a massive Halloween party to Easter egg hunts, holiday gift exchanges, and even spontaneous hot tub nights for the moms. They come together to create a full-size float for the Alameda Mayor’s Parade on the Fourth of July, and during progressive dinner parties, each home prepares a single course for everyone to enjoy.
For many people, privacy is a comfort, if not an expectation, and they protectively guard the islands found beyond their front doors. Even if you know your neighbors by their first names, chances are you don’t say much more to them than “Hello” and “How are you?”
But there’s a more inclusive way to live. And the West End’s Haighters demonstrate the potential for suburban neighborhoods to be far more connected.
It’s ironic that the Haighters are thusly named when they clearly embody neighborly love. Could there, however, be too much love? What if you were already busy carpooling kids to sporting activities, hosting play dates, and figuring out your own family’s dinner? Wouldn’t making the appetizer course at a progressive dinner party for an entire block be just another item on an already-long to-do list?
Haighter families would respond with a resounding “No.” They are all about helping one another out, which seems to balance, rather than burden, an active lifestyle.
“For many years, my husband was traveling overseas, and I was working in retail with crazy hours,” explained Donatella Zepplin, who has lived on the block since 1995. “I felt that at any time I could count on one of the neighbors in case I needed help with my daughter. This meant a lot to me, considering that my whole family is back in Italy and my husband’s family is in Wisconsin.”
Connie Taylor, a fourth-generation Alamedan who with her husband and two sons has been a Haighter since 2007, agreed. “The best thing is definitely the feeling that there is an entire community that has your back. We look out for each other and each other’s kids.”
Looking out for one another can take the form of a listening ear after a lousy day, a jump for a dead battery, many extra sets of eyes on kids running up and down the street, excitement over someone’s promotion, or a ready response to the group email, where anyone who needs help can send out a request and expect a timely and genuine reply.
At the same time, there is no pressure to participate beyond one’s comfort level, and intrusiveness does not seem to be an issue.
“We maintain solidarity because we live and let live,” Taylor said. “You can be as involved as you want to be. We try not to pass judgment. Some folks just participate in the block party and some folks do it all.”
New families bring fresh energy to the community, while longtimers who grew up in the block in the ’50s and ’60s bring wisdom and help resolve the occasional conflict. Melanie Shannon, who has been a Haighter for seven years, said it all comes back to extending tolerance and appreciation for individual preferences.
“There is an overall thankfulness for the community that we share,” Shannon said. “From that appreciation comes much tolerance, understanding, and respect for each other and our many differences.”
The Haighters have inspired other Alameda neighborhoods to get active, and there’s a sense that this type of community may be popping up in increasing numbers. “I think more and more people are realizing that Alameda is a truly special place to live and especially to raise children,” VanEvery said. “Our block is a great example.”
If you’ve fallen in love with the Haighters, you’re not alone. There are many other families eagerly awaiting the chance to move into the neighborhood. It’s refreshing to know there’s a place, not only where everyone knows your name, but also where community can be found as close by as the front lawn.
The Haighters find many reasons to gather together for neighborhood celebrations.