Party for a Good Cause: El Rio Vecinos Throw 2nd Annual Black Tie Block Party

September 4, 2015

13 of the El Rio Vecinos either live or work Downtown.

13 of the El Rio Vecinos either live or work Downtown.

by Mariana Colín

The celebration that brought over 700 people to eat, drink, dance, and support a good cause last year is returning. The Black Tie Block Party, organized by the El Rio Vecinos, is a bash to rival any that Tucson has to offer (and that bar is set pretty high). This time, however, it promises to be even more of an event than it was before. Last year’s Block Party, a huge success in its own right, raised $60,000 for the El Rio Children’s Dental Program. This year, the guest list is nearing 900 and anticipation is clearly high, as tickets to the event are sold out. With so many people ready to party it’s no surprise that revenue will be higher as well. This year, the Black Tie Block Party is projected to raise another charity-bound $75,000.

Such an ambitious event wouldn’t be possible without a team of equally ambitious and driven people behind the scenes. Comprised of a group of 40 young professionals between the ages of 25 and 39, the El Rio Vecinos volunteer their spare time to build support and awareness for El Rio Community Health Center. And if the success of the Black Tie Block Party is any indication, they’re doing a smashing job.

Belinda Rivera and Anthony Schaefer are the current President and Vice President of the El Rio Vecinos.

Belinda Rivera and Anthony Schaefer are the President & Vice President of the El Rio Vecinos.

“Just by putting the volunteers together they put in a lot of hours,” says Jill Rodriguez, Development Coordinator at El Rio Community Health Center. The Vecinos, many of whom either work or live in the Downtown area, agree to attend one business meeting and one social event with the group monthly. They devote a lot of their time to all sorts of different awareness causes for El Rio, but their work is truly showcased in the Block Party, which all of the members have a hand in organizing.

Mark Hotchkiss, who has undertaken the daunting task of recruiting and orchestrating all the volunteers for the event, sees the Block Party not only as an opportunity to improve upon last year’s achievement, but also to trumpet the professional growth of Tucson. “We feel like it’s a great place to live that’s a little overlooked,” he says.  “The design of the Block Party is oriented toward promoting the city.”

Gabe Graterton, another Vecino who is donating all the volunteer t-shirts through The Underestimated City, which he partly owns, agrees: “I know so many people who came to the U of A and loved Tucson, but never really considered it as part of a professional life. I think that’s a shame. And I think professional groups such as ours promote Tucson in that way.”

With the Black Tie Block Party, the El Rio Vecinos have demonstrated their savvy approach to promoting Tucson as a place in which to live and build a career: make everything fun.

Johnny Gibson's serves as a sponsor and the all-important wine source for the Black Tie Block Party.

Johnny Gibson’s serves as a sponsor and the all-important wine source for the Black Tie Block Party.

“There’s going to be live music by The Sound Bytes, and a DJ,” says Vecino Mike Rodriguez. “Carnival-style games, a little bit of everything.” A 2015 50th Anniversary Mustang will be raffled off, and local Tucson artists will be there to entertain.

“Black tie does not necessarily mean dressed to the nines,” cautions Mark. “Wear comfortable shoes. You will be dancing.” In fact, the most and perhaps only important feature of the Black Tie Block Party dress code is a bow tie, which has become the signature piece of apparel for the event.

All this is without even mentioning the incredible food and drink that will be featured at the Block Party. Restaurants from Downtown and around the city have partnered with the Vecinos to help make this party happen, so it makes sense that the refreshments offered will be second to none. Party goers will be able to sample over 20 of Tucson’s most beloved food, drink, and dessert establishments.

The devoted investment of the sponsors only serves to drive home how much of a community effort the Block Party represents. Paul Cisek, co-owner of Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market, is providing logistical support and wine to the event. “El Rio is such a vital organization to what happens to be now our constituency,” he says. “The market has positioned itself to provide groceries that fit a wide economic demographic and El Rio also does that. The market is not about exclusivity. We’re trying to open doors to everybody.”

On September 12th, the historic Scottish Rite Cathedral will host one of the most outrageous of Tucson parties.

On September 12th, the historic Scottish Rite Cathedral will host one of the most outrageous of Tucson parties.

Those who were on their toes and picked up a ticket to the Block Party while they still lasted will be treated to such a good time that they may forget what they really bought with their ticket.

“There are many kids who just don’t have the ability to have their teeth properly cared for,” says Jill. The Block Party will provide funding for sealants, emergency extractions, and preventative care for thousands of underprivileged Tucson children.”

“Dental is not a moneymaker,” she continues. “Clinics don’t have enough revenue coming in. But because we have the foundation and because there’s such a need in Tucson for dental care we’ve made that commitment.”

The Black Tie Block Party begins at 7 on Saturday, September 12th at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. The Vecinos are still in need of volunteers for the event, so if you’re interested in participating, or would like more information about becoming a Vecino, email