Is it neighbors who make a neighborhood a good one?
Growing up, I learned that I lived in a bad neighborhood when my sixth grade teacher announced to our class that my street (she named it) used to be so nice but, look at it now. I’ve forgotten a lot of things that happened that year, but I clearly remember my embarrassment at that moment. As a result, I considered my neighborhood and my neighbors, but was unable to see them through that teacher’s eyes.
Fast forward to 1995, when my husband and I were house hunting. When we started to look, I created a wish list and on it were two location details. It would be within walking distance from both the beach and from downtown, from the Cabot Theater, to be exact. This house met that criteria and we loved the house. We’ve lived here more than 25 years now and still love the neighborhood and the neighbors. Let me share a few details.
About fifteen years ago, I was invited to attend a small gathering of neighbors to plan a block party. We picked a fall date and an alternate rain date, deciding that we would ask each family to provide either an appetizer or a dessert, and $5-10 to share costs for a bouncy-bounce, soft drinks, paper goods, and chips. During the next months, we contacted the police to request closing the side street, then printed and distributed announcements, asking for RSVPs. We planned getting-to-know-you games. On the appointed day, we fired up the grills, set up the bouncy-bounce, asked older kids to paint the faces of the younger children, and provided name tags. It was a success and we got to know more of our neighbors.
The following spring, our committee had a block-planning party, during which we heartily congratulated ourselves as we drank margaritas and planned for the next event. So, this has been happening for more than fifteen years now. Minimal planning is needed, as we each have our standard tasks from year to year. My tasks are editing and printing the invitation, delivering the invitations with another friend, then on the party day, buying bags of ice. We have simplified the party and no longer use grills, only shared food. There are no longer small children, so no more bouncy-bounce, either. We now include special invitations to welcome any families that moved in during the year.
Of course, we could not hold the party last year and I haven’t heard from the block party planning Queen this spring, so who knows for this year?
Another neighborly event is our Kiva parties. Are you familiar with Kiva? It’s an international micro-lending organization that invites people to contribute to loans for entrepreneurs in third world countries to help their small businesses get funded. Many third world countries do not have established banking systems, so the lending systems that we take for granted are not available to them. We have a neighborhood group of six couples who gather in alternating homes about once every two months for a pot luck dinner. After dinner, we get out the computer, log onto Kiva, and select individuals or groups to support with our funding.
When we started about five years ago, we donated $5 per person and chose two recipients. As the loans were repaid to us, we lent that money again, with our newly donated funds. When we meet now, there’s always two or three hundred dollars repaid, plus $10 per person of new money. So, we donate to multiple people with larger amounts than when we started. The dinner we share is always delicious, we catch up on our neighbors’ lives, and also feel good about contributing to people’s lives around the world.
There’s one more event in my neighborhood worth sharing. About two weeks ago, my husband came in and said, “Did you see the painted rock out front?” What? I walked outside and at the front of our yard was a rock, about four inches across, painted blue, with a white heart! I later realized that many of my neighbors had painted rocks placed on their front yards, too. We have no idea who the rock fairy is, but have further proof of the goodness in our neighborhood!
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