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Cupertino Block Leader Program Connects Neighbors with One Another and their City

Case Story

Community: City of Cupertino (Santa Clara County)

Population: 58,302 (2010)


Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge visiting City of Cupertino staff Erin Cooke and Laura Domondon Lee and block leader Mahesh Nihalani at the 2010 League of California Cities Annual Conference, where the program was awarded the Helen Putnam Award for Excellence. The City of Cupertino’s award winning block leader program has been enhancing public safety and helping neighbors get to know one another since 2002. Over 350 volunteers have received training and support to become block leaders. The program was established in the wake of 9/11, when residents in the fast growing, increasingly diverse Silicon Valley community asked city leaders for support in getting to know their neighbors better.

Block leaders receive training and support to pursue projects of their choosing related to community building, bridging cultural gaps, neighborhood improvement, emergency preparedness, and improving public safety. Trained block leaders serve as volunteer community builders and as a liaison between the city and their neighborhood.

Process Highlights and Results

  • Over 350 Cupertino Residents have received training and support from the city to become volunteer block leaders.
  • Quarterly block leader trainings provide opportunities for the volunteers to learn from more experienced leaders, and to engage in person with city staff.
  • City officials and staff believe the block leader program has significantly enhanced public safety in Cupertino.
  • Block leaders typically organize twenty or thirty homes in their immediate neighborhood, but some reach out to more and some less. Co-leadership is strongly encouraged.
  • Block leaders are challenged to gather with neighbors at least twice a year. Examples of block leader organized gatherings include meetings to organize block parties, neighborhood watch, to prepare for an emergency, to relay a concern to the city or to provide information about a new city program.
  • Block leaders are asked to evaluate pilot programs for the city, including a new smartphone app that allows residents to report problems quickly using a geo-tagged photo.
  • Block leaders help promote civic engagement opportunities, such as public meetings and surveys related to a proposed dog park.
  • Block leaders help disseminate emergency preparedness training in their neighborhoods. The city provides in-home neighborhood specific preparedness trainings to groups of neighbors gathered by block leaders.
  • Cupertino borrowed an idea developed in Redwood City to provide $300 grants for small community building and improvement projects such as block parties and neighborhood clean up events.
  • A youth block leaders program established in 2009 by an ambitious teen has engaged high school students as community leaders and liaisons.

Lessons Learned

  • Experienced volunteers can impart valuable knowledge and save staff time if they are supported in providing training to new volunteers.
  • Allowing volunteers the flexibility to pursue projects related to their passions and expertise enhanced participation and led to positive results.
  • The most successful ways to recruit new block leaders have been, 1) through word of mouth when block leaders talk to people they know in adjacent neighborhoods, and, 2) Inviting residents who had already participated in emergency preparedness training.
  • Identification badges for block leaders lend credibility to volunteers who may be meeting their neighbors for the first time.
  • City staff appreciate opportunities to meet with block leaders who want to support community efforts and who will share their knowledge with neighbors.
  • Many residents in Cupertino and beyond don’t know many of their neighbors. This can present a significant challenge in the modern age of the internet, iPods, double income families, multiple afterschool activities and television.
  • Block leaders and city staff report that they feel happier and safer living in a community where they have opportunities to gather and collaborate with neighbors.

Resources to Learn More

  • For current news about the Cupertino Block Leader Program and resources provided to the block leaders, visit Cupertino’s block leader web page.
  • An article about Cupertino’s Block Leader Program appeared in the December 2010 issue of Western City Magazine

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