Block Party in the ‘Burg welcomes students to downtown

This August, James Madison University welcomed over 4,000 incoming freshman – the largest freshman class yet – onto campus with its “1787 Orientation.” Through Block Party in the Burg, Downtown Harrisonburg was proud to welcome those same students into the community.

28 JMU upperclassmen Orientation Peer Advisors (OPAs), also referred to as the “O-Team,” began planning the week-long orientation a year ago. They participated in leadership classes, interviewed the many enthusiastic  First Year Orientation Guides (FROGs), worked JMU’s Summer Springboard pre-orientation event in June, and led the successful 1787 Orientation. Chelsea Coffman, a junior at JMU, reflected, “Orientation has been a defining part of my JMU experience and being an OPA this year added to shaping my time at JMU.”

Rounding off the end of this event-filled week was the 8th Annual Block Party in the ‘Burg, presented by Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. This is the second year that HDR has partnered with JMU to make Block Party an official part of the University’s orientation schedule (though last year’s event was rescheduled due to Hurricane Irene). The goal of Block Party in the ‘Burg is to welcome students as residents of the community and introduce them to downtown’s many businesses, organizations, and hot-spots!

Students explore the streets of downtown Harrisonburg at Block Party in the ‘Burg.
Photo courtesy of Allen Litten.

The event featured various musical, dance, and Greek Life groups from JMU and the community, with performances held at various locations throughout downtown. Guided walking tours, led by JMU Student Ambassadors and HDR staff, showcased all that downtown has to offer, including shops, restaurants, the arts and music community, and events.

Kayla Cook, a freshman just arriving at JMU, experienced downtown in a way that she never imagined she would. “For me, it really opened the world of JMU past the campus walls,” she said.

Freshmen Lillia Grabenstein, Amanda Graziano, Vani Wainfortin, and Kelly Gunn show off balloon creations they received at the event.
Photo submitted by Kayla Cook.

Through Block Party, Kayla was able to gain a wider perspective of Harrisonburg and the community she became a part of after accepting JMU as her university of choice.

While she thoroughly enjoyed 1787 Orientation, “the Block Party was a nice change of pace from the rest of the orientation week,” said Kayla. “The other activities started to build up what was described as the ‘JMU Bubble’ and this part of the week took us out of the bubble and into the real world.”

By experiencing downtown during the first week of her time at JMU, Kayla gained familiarity with the community early on and in a unique way, both of which will make it easier for her to return again and again during her next four years in Harrisonburg.

Students participated in fun games and challenges during the event.
Photo courtesy of Allen Litten.

The Harrisonburg Fire Department taught students how to put out fires.
Photo courtesy of Allen Litten.

A caricaturist captured memories at Block Party.
Photo courtesy of Allen Litten.

Chelsea Coffman had a different perspective from being an OPA and having been a part of the planning of orientation. Even though she explores downtown on a regular basis, Chelsea found herself discovering new things during Block Party that she wasn’t aware of before, like new shops that had just opened up and restaurants she had yet to try.

Orientation week was a success amplified by the addition of Block Party in the ‘Burg. “1787 is forever changed now, because the week is now not just about orienting First Years to the university, but to the surrounding community they are now a part of, as well,” said Chelsea.

To learn more about 1787 and Block Party in the ‘Burg, check out this video!


Kari Owens is the HDR Promotions Intern for Summer and Fall 2012. She is a rising senior Media Arts & Design major and Creative Writing minor at James Madison University.


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