Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – The Beginning
The question my wife asked me in the summer of 2009, brought to the surface, once again, a “calling”, or a sense of mission that I’ve carried around with me since early childhood. She asked, “If money were not an issue, what would you do to help people?” My immediate answer was, “I would help them experience community.”
[“Community” is one of those nebulous terms that might describe a location, organization, or experience. Unlike some experiences though—like the experience of “joy”, it can’t be experienced without the company of others. It is the antithesis of alienation and loneliness. My wife, Terry, and I had a profound experience of community in Rock Springs, Wyoming. We moved from there with the intention of taking what we had learned and experienced to those who were hungry for community in other places. We found that the greatest need seemed to be right in our own neighborhood.]
I discovered that the best way to begin was simply to begin. I printed up an invitation for a neighborhood meeting and distributed it door-to-door. We had a fairly large turn-out for that initial meeting and it seemed to go well. We told our neighbors that our house was going to be open for a gathering every Tuesday at 7:00pm. We bought some loose ring notebooks and I printed some pages with an outline of our vision for the gatherings and an agenda for the first meeting (which was actually the second meeting but first official Gathering) and gave one to each person who showed up. Fewer showed up at the second gathering but I had another printed agenda and a planned discussion ready. About the same number showed up at the third gathering. Only one neighbor showed up for the fourth—and we became a little discouraged. However, we kept our house open and began to plan and hold neighborhood events. After neighbors became familiar and comfortable with the format, each gathering became self-organized. Authority was vested in those who held the “Talking Stick” which was passed from neighbor to neighbor in our circle. I began publishing a monthly neighborhood newsletter which we delivered door-to-door.
In the first year we:
- Collected school supplies and donated them to the local Boys & Girls club,
- Held a neighborhood barbecue and played horseshoes in our backyard,
- Held a neighborhood Halloween Party,
- Made an application to the city for a permit and closed off a street for a neighborhood block party,
- Organized a neighborhood Yards Sale,
- Painted a 4×8 sheet of plywood with a Christmas greeting which was put up with other “Christmas Cards” on the street leading to City Hall.
- Had a “Christmas Walkabout” where several neighbors provided snacks and a stop at their house.
- Had a Christmas Dinner with neighbors.
- Had a New Year’s Eve Ethnic Potluck dinner and played games until 1:30am with about 30 neighbors.
- Had a Neighborhood Progressive Dinner
- Had an All-Day Picnic in the Park
- Had an Easter Dinner
At the time when we moved from Florida, we regularly had about 15-25 neighbors who showed up at the Gatherings and not always the same ones. For most, it had become the social highlight of the week. Many more neighbors came for neighborhood events.
What we were not able to do, was to help develop a network of Gatherings. We envisioned several Gatherings coming together for picnics, forming network hubs for meetings, and enjoying the feeling of participating in a growing movement.