Great Neighbours is a initiative supported by the Red Deer County, the City of Red Deer and surrounding towns whose goal is to get neighbours to know each other. In our fast paced world with its ease of transportation and communications, it’s easy to forget that those around you may want and need personal interaction. There are tremendous benefits to living in a close knit inclusive neighbourhood including face to face social interaction, safety and crime prevention and effective responses to emergencies.
The Great Neighbours initiative is here to help. Its Community Mobilizer, Nora Smith, has held presentations in several locations in Red Deer County encouraging volunteers to sign up as Block Coordinators for their neighbourhoods. The role of the Block Connector is to contact 10 to 20 families in their immediate area to have a friendly chat and describe the program, and organize one or two neighborhood events each year designed to allow neighbours to get to know each other. To date there has been 67 people volunteer to be Block Connectors mostly in urban areas but now there is an increased emphasis on implementing the initiative in rural areas.
In rural areas getting to know your neighbours may be difficult as houses are some distance apart and the chance of just bumping into your neighbours is remote. The replacement of land phone lines with unlisted cell numbers, the use of guard dogs and building of driveway gates for protection further limits interaction between neighbours. People moving into the neighbourhood may have a difficult time getting to know those around them. Existing residents may find rural life lonely and isolating especially once their kids have left home or when one spouse is lost.
The first volunteer Block Connectors in Red Deer County were Jim and Sandy Martin, representing an neighbourhood east of Spruce View. This winter a “get to know your neighbour” gathering was held at the Spruce View Drop-In Center where the twenty families in attendance had a chance to introduce themselves to neighbours they didn’t know. They gave information on their family, their profession, their interests and their hope for the neighbourhood. As a follow up, a pot luck supper was held in the spring that provided an opportunity for people to interact and play some horse shoes. A wood turning course is being organized in the neighbourhood and planning has starting for another neighbourhood event for the fall. Notices of criminal activity in the area provided by the RCMP are being sent out to everyone in the neighbourhood to try to help keep everyone informed.
Building a caring and inclusive neighbourhood takes time and effort but the rewards are great. If you’re interested in being a Block Connector for your neighbourhood, contact Nora Smith at 403-358-4892.
Are you planning an event that would bring your neighbourhood together such as a block party, movie night or community garage sale, there is matching funding available through the Great Neighbours initiative in the form of a Spark Grant. To get information on eligibility and to get the forms, go the Great Neighbours website (www.reddeer.ca/greatneighbours) and follow the links to the Spark Grants.
On June 29th my neighbourhood blocked of part of the street for our block party.
As the night went on I observed neighbours who had been on the block for 20 years having 1st time conversations with neighbours who had been on the block for 15. I observed an elderly couple making a point to shuffle their chairs around circles to connect and they spent much of their time talking with the teens and the twenty year olds. I saw strangers guiding young ones back off of the non blocked off road into the safety of the community and the blocked off street. I saw smiles and heard ” it was great to meet you, we need to do this again.”
My neighbour, who’s birthday it was that day, still thanks me ( a month later) for organizing the best birthday party in his 30 year existence.
While walking the neighbourhood I’ve had neighbours tell me how they’ve invited neighbours over to hang out in the yard. Two neighbours who live across the alley from each other connected 3 years ago and were sharing stories of how they help each other work on their cars and are open to help others. One neighbour who is building a large new home offered tours and shared their dreams as well as dirt for any gardens that needed extra.
Two nights after our block party 5 families ( who connected for the first time) walked to and sat with each other for the Gord Branford Canada celebrations.
I am so thankful to Neighbourhood Life for the encouragement and mentoring they have offered me to help my street form a community within the city of Lacombe. On top of that their practical gifts of a trailer BBQ and Espresso Trike are very appreciated and a perfect fit to complement a relaxed atmosphere in which neighbours can interact and connect!
A few weeks ago, on a beautiful Saturday morning, I biked the espresso trike into a Red Deer neighbourhood and delighted in what happened next. You see, Evelyn took me up on my offer of having a neighbourhood initiative which simply rallied around the Neighbourhood Life Espresso Trike, which she discovered during one of our training sessions. She later admitted that she was not sure what was going to happen…..at any level! The deal was made, as she was assured she did not have to prepare anything, just simply invite her neighbours for an espresso, latte or some other coffee related drink. After all this was not a block party. And so she waited on the curb, at the agreed upon time, which is when I rolled up in front of her home. After a few exchanges of greetings and brief commentary on the weather, people started to pour out of their front doors and their garages, while others were seen coming down the sidewalk.
To witness such a scene is heart warming, to say the least. Especially when you have lived there for many years and now realized that many neighbours introduced themselves for the first time. Some came late because they had forgotten, but were reminded by the small commotion on the sidewalk. Others came for a latte, walked back home for a minute, and returned a half hour later for another. Although I roast the coffee I serve, there is no transactions or costs necessary, which eventually leads to someone asking, “Who are you and what is this all about?” The answer is first and foremost about quenching the community thirst of neighbours getting together because Jesus had our best interests in mind when he spoke the command. And for the people who don’t like to listen to Jesus, I tell them any realtor will say the same, because a neighbourhood in which neighbours love each other is a great place to live and can even increase the value of your home! Later in the conversation we talk about the farmers who grow the beans that I roast, and how they are working on their community much like we are doing in this neighbourhood. Interestingly, the conversation swung back to Jesus. I say interestingly, because an impromptu Bible Study on the curbside of the neighbourhood in which you live (with your neighbours) is quite different from most experiences.
This past weekend we heard a few puns as we built our neighbourhoods first ‘bee hotel.’ Yes, it was sort of a work bee. Presence matters, and that played into the word, “be.” All in all, bees are interesting for all ages, and we were all educated as we beautified our neighbourhood. We also put up some butterfly homes and added some strategic plants for hummingbirds, along with signage that gave us ‘advice’ from these creatures. And then the group of us ended with a BBQ meal where we continued to forge relationships.
During the course of the few hours, we had visitors. Their was a wedding in the yard a few houses down, so we had beautifully dressed people come visit. One of our elderly men, who lives a couple houses down from where we worked, also came by to visit (and to give advice), but needed to return to rest due to the hot weather. One grandmother, who had helped earlier, returned with her grandchildren to explore the objectives that our neighbourhood was looking to accomplish. And among those people we need to acknowledge the generosity of one of the neighbours who did not make it, but donated a great deal of material to help get the job done (DB Bobcat).
As I reflect back on the day, I am grateful for all of these many parts we experienced. Personally, I am always pleasantly surprised at what brings value to the neighbouorhood! Perhaps you may want to imagine you were there, and ask yourself which part may have been most valuable from your perspective?
This week was full of block parties and neighbourhood initiatives including the grand opening of the Good Neighbour CoffeeHouse. Pictures are worth a thousand words!
Over the past year a number of neighbourhood leaders and business men helped orchestrate a brand new ‘third space’ called the “Good Neighbour CoffeeHouse.” This business supports initiatives that help neighbours connect and for people to “bloom where they are planted.” The space features true stories from various neighbourhoods, private tours for neighbouorhoods, and a regular place in which neighbours can bump into each other. And we would like to invite you to our open house this Saturday, June 17th from 7am – 7pm to celebrate with us. Ribbon cutting at 1:30pm. Official book launch for our book, “Neighouring For Life.” We will be skyping with the farmers who grow our beans in Honduras. And discounting all food and drink items for the day. Thanks for your support!
This week marks the opening of the new Good Neighbour CoffeeHouse in Lacombe, Alberta. This is a unique ‘third space’ that emphasizes the personal relationship we have with the farmers, while custom roasting their coffee beans. We will feature these farmers because of the partnership we have in community development. With this in mind, we will emphasize our role in community development through neighbourhoods. We definitely want to promote what we know is a clear Biblical commandment, “to love your neighbour.” And to start us off this week, we have Jim Diers flying in from Seattle to lead various sessions in Red Deer, which will wind up in our CoffeeHouse on Thursday, Jue 1rst. He has challenged and changed the city of Seattle with neighbouorhood initiatives over the past years. See more at http://www.neighborpower.org/
We are excited to have so many people involved with this initiative and look forward to the creative ways in which we can blend (pun intended) business with neighbourhoods. Let me just say we have a few surprise that may catch the attention of those who look to see their neighbourhood flourish. Stay Tuned!
A friend once shared his weird insight. He said, “You don’t know, what you don’t know.” The obvious statement seemed to go a little deeper when he said it. I suppose that is why we have ‘aha’ moments, or why we try to get others to, “See what I mean?”
We are approaching the heart of block party month. We would like to make resources available to help make it easy for anyone to start a block party. But perhaps we need to be reminded that the relationships in which we look to engage in our neighbourhoods is of greater value than the block party itself. We can be overly concerned about numbers and getting the ‘party’ just right at the expense of “loving our neighbours.” And it is in the loving of neighbours that we most likely have those ‘aha’ moments. As a result, some have seen neighbours in different light, some have finally gotten to know them in the first place, and still others have been surprised at how neighbours actually want to engage. But when neighbours eat and share together, it is not uncommon to hear that “their eyes were opened.”
What is so valuable about the newly built front porch and an Easter egg hunt?
Easter is simply about new life we receive from the good news of Christ overcoming death. Unreal. Unbelievable. Actually believable! Since the good news has been so far removed from our culture, it takes intentional action to engage in those who live around us to help become reacquainted with how good the news is. Our presence among neighbours is valuable to bridge the good news of Scripture with culture. Much like two best friends from high school, who find they have very little in common at the 25th reunion, need something to help to help them reconnect. Just when life seems sucked dry, life is breathed back in.
One contractor created a sauna near the back alley of his home, generating interest from neighbours. The interested turned this “hot spot” into a connecting place for neighbbours (believe it or not). There is nothing here for you or I to duplicate. Neighbouring is much like google; you develop the ‘platform’ and see where it takes you. Of course, it takes an open mind and an open heart and an imagination that leads to vulnerability, trust and love of neighbour without condition. The sauna is a surprise to some, but the concept is unique to its unique neighbourhood.
This led the young builder to the next step. A few of those who gathered in this neighbourhood liked the idea of a neutral space for some of the families to hang out. It started with the neighbourhood men and a pool table. One of the men said he wouldn’t mind paying $50 a month to help the cause. This turned into momentum for this builder’s dream, and so he literally took the growing contributions to the bank. The bank responded favourably and construction began. A home for the pool table and a serious ventilation system that would help suck out the smoke from the new cigar club that formed in this same neighbourhood.
Oddly enough, one unwritten rule came into play. In order for the neighbourhood to grow, family members are encouraged to show up independently as to enhance connecting among neighbours.