Monday, August 18, 2014

The Arizona Good Neighbor Project

Being a good neighbor has been on my mind a lot lately.
Photo and words by Kathryn

I didn't grow up in a typical neighborhood.  About 75% of my neighbors were one, two, or three generations older than me.  There were not a lot of kids for me to play with.  I'm pretty sure the house across the street was a drug house and my closest neighbor was a bull that lived in the field my great uncle owned.  My sister and I named him Cupcake. 


But, there was one house that had a girl my age.  Her name was Mollie.    Mollie lived across the street from me (not the drug house) from about the fifth grade to our tenth grade year.  Mollie was not like me at all.  I was the clean cut, teacher's pet, liked boys, attend church every Sunday type.  Mollie was the tattooed, multiple piercings, liked girls, hate school and church type.  But, we were friendly neighbors.  If Mollie needed a place to go, a person to talk to, she knew my house was always open to her.  She spent quite a bit of time with my family.  Years after high school we were able to reconnect via Facebook.  It was fun to note that after about 15 years she still had the quilt my family made for her.

A few days before my 30th birthday I got the news that Mollie had died in an accident.  Mollie's family, who now mostly lived out of state, were trying to plan a funeral for her locally.  Things weren't coming together very easily for them.  I hesitated to offer a plan because I wasn't her best friend or anything, I was merely an old neighbor.  Then the thought occurred, "Stop being scared Kathryn and help your neighbor."  So, for my 30th birthday, my family and I gave my childhood neighbor a funeral.  My church building was filled with people that looked, thought, and acted very different from myself.  Everyone thought it very ironic the location of the funeral, including myself.  I figured Mollie was laughing in heaven, but thankful for her neighbors.  

Now I don't tell this story to say, look at me.  I have failed as a neighbor countless times.  The point is, we all have neighbors.  They may not act, look, vote, think, speak, or live like us.  The only thing we may have in common is the location of our residence.  There were plenty of times that I wished as a teenager that the girl who lived close could maybe be a tad more like me.  At the time I thought it would have made life easier.  Now as an adult, I realize I would have missed out on many life lessons that came from knowing someone so different from myself. 

Being a neighbor is not always easy.  I think we are growing accustomed to taking the easy way out.  Personally, I think there is a growing trend that needs to stop.  I think it is time that as Arizonans we step up as neighbors.  And it starts with me, it starts with you.  I'm not saying we have to be best friends, involved in every aspect of each other's lives.  I'm saying we get to know each other and we start acting more friendly!

Below are some ideas others and myself have used to get to know our neighbors:

- Take cookies.  We did last night and they looked like a Pinterest fail, but we still had the opportunity to meet some fantastic new neighbors.

- Have a movie projected on your garage door and invite the neighborhood.  Everyone brings a treat to share.

- Neighborhood pancake breakfast or potluck.  Pancakes are cheap!  And early mornings are a great time to make a fresh start for meeting a neighbor. 

- Start a neighborhood 5K.  One of my neighbors a few streets over started a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving day for our area.  Some walked, some sprinted, some rode their bikes, and some just joined at the end to say hello.  Exercise is a great way to bond.   

- Take a meal.  We had a neighbor bring a meal after we started foster care.  Such a nice way of showing support. 

-   Bring in their trash cans.  Yes, we owe our neighbors big time for this kindness. 

- Go for a walk or bike ride.  Make yourself more visible to your neighbors.

- Play in your front yard.  I grew up on a busy street so we didn't exactly play in our front yard, but I find that when I play in the front yard with my kids, I meet more and more neighbors. 

- Smile!  It is that simple.  Maybe even add in a wave. 

- Ask to borrow something.  Need an egg?  A cup of sugar?  Pretend that you do. 

- Serve!  Pull weeds that need to be pulled.  Listen when they want to talk. 

- Neighborhood water fights, block watches, banding together to decorate for  the holidays, neighborhood clean sweep projects, neighborhood garage sale,...etc, etc.

Right now, I want you to say, OUT LOUD, "I will be a better neighbor today!"  That's right.  Pledge to do better.  Now, figure out something simple, something you already have a knack for, and use that to help you be a better neighbor.  That way, you don't miss out on knowing the Mollies in your life. 

Imagine how different Arizona would be if we all pledged to be more neighborly.  Lower crime?  Reduced stress?  Homes being kept up better?  Think of the impact on our children, on education.  I know most of you hate to comment, but, please take the time to let us know how you pledge to be a better neighbor.  Let's pledge to make Arizona an even better place to live! 
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