The Turquoise Table

Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard

“The Turquoise Table” (Kristen Schell; Thomas Nelson 2017) is a new book about an old concept that challenges us to gather around the table…with our neighbours…in our front yard!  Pretty simple concept, but perhaps a lost art.  In fact, we may have almost lost our imagination as to how this can be reclaimed.  Many families have gathered around the Thanksgiving table this weekend.  The joy of this picture had once took place everyday…..and sometimes multiple times on one day!  Today, it is a dream for some to be around the table for any given length of time with some of our family.  Imagine the family gathering on a regular basis around the table as they did on Thanksgiving Day throughout the year.  Now imagine your neighbours gathering around the table throughout the year.  These simple acts are transformative for the lives of family members as they are for neighbours and their neighbourhoods!

Whether your table is one colour or another, may we grow in the direction of eating together around the table.  Remember and believe!

 

“Great Neighbours”

I became involved with the Great Neighbours initiative and completed the block connector volunteer training in November of 2016. I made some attempts to meet my more immediate neighbours throughout the winter, but began a concerted effort to meet more families in the spring and summer of 2017.

I live on a very long and busy street, and my “block” includes 46 duplexes (family units). I began by knocking on doors, and was met with much enthusiasm by those who were home; however, I discovered that, while meeting people this way was fun and rewarding, it was also going to be extremely time consuming – and I wanted to meet at least enough people to get a sense of who would like to get involved in the initiative and help me put together a block party.

I remembered that, during our block connector training, Rick Abma from Good Neighbour Coffee / Neighbourhood Life was involved in delivering the training and had offered to come to our neighbourhoods to serve coffee and help “break the ice” with our neighbours.

I called Rick and he agreed to come to our neighbourhood on a Saturday morning in early July. My next door neighbour and I dropped off notices at every household on the block, inviting them to come to a “Pop-Up Coffee Bar” the following weekend.  

That morning, Rick biked down the street with his coffee bar and, although we didn’t get a huge number of people out, many of those who did show up came from the opposite end of that long block. We had so much fun standing outside in the sun and getting to know one another! And, even better, they were all really excited about the Great Neighbours initiative… and every one of them signed up to help with the block party.

I have come to know these neighbours better over the summer and, without exception, they still talk about how much they enjoyed the “Pop-Up Coffee Bar” that Saturday morning. They all shared what happened that morning with their families and friends, and many of the people they talked to said they would love to do something similar in their neighbourhoods.

 

On a more personal level, I became involved in the Great Neighbours initiative because I believe it is important to reach out to people locally in order to create inclusive and safe neighbourhoods. I wanted to encourage people to meet one another to offer help and support, as well as to just have fun together. I wanted to see kids playing together and neighbours stopping to talk to one another. And I have seen all of this going on over the summer!

But something else happened too….

On July 31, my family learned that my oldest granddaughter required surgery to have a large tumour removed – and we had no idea of what might come next. As a result, I postponed the August 29 block party date to September 9.  Then, on August 15, we learned she would need intense chemotherapy treatments beginning in early September.

I contacted the neighbours who had volunteered to help with the block party, and asked them to come to a short meeting a few days later.  I knew I would be unable to fulfill my commitment as co-ordinator of the block party, but wanted to ask if any one of them felt able to take over my role so the party could go on as planned.

Unfortunately, most of them were either going to be away or were getting ready to return to work in September and so were unable to take on the jobs I had assigned to myself – so we agreed to cancel the party for this summer.   

But the encouragement and support I received from my neighbours that night was exactly what I needed. They stayed well beyond the half-hour meeting I had requested. We talked, shared funny stories about ourselves, and got to know one another on a new level…and we agreed that we would meet for coffee and perhaps plan some smaller events in the months ahead. Who knew that the “Block Connecter” would be the one who needed to be connected?

Since that night, I have continued to receive support and kindness from my neighbours in the form of cards, emails, inquiries about my granddaughter during short visits outside…and watering my new grass, while I was in Calgary with my family.

This initiative is clearly one of the most important and rewarding things I have ever done – and I will continue my involvement as long as I am able, so others can also reap the benefits of living in such a caring community.

Terrace, BC

This past week I had the privilege to spend nine days of training in Terrace, British Columbia.  At least 40 households seemed to have read our book, “Neighbouring for Life” prior to my arrival which proved helpful in preparation for the days ahead.  Among the evenings of teaching and training were the small walks through various neighbourhoods.  I was amazed at how people were in tune with their neighbourhoods, albeit they acknowledged parts that were left to be discovered.  Day one began with the classic mapping exercise, defining neighbourhood boundaries to which we added names, attributes and matters of the heart.  The participating neighbourhoods seemed to blanket the majority of Terrace leading to the vision of their collective community impact; if everyone invested in their neighbourhood by ‘loving your neighbour,’ healthier community and enriched lives would be inevitable.  While travelling from neghbourhood to neighbourhood, I heard a variety of stories:  Out of nowhere came a man from three doors down who suddenly suggested they should have a block party…..as if he had been listening to us the whole time.  Another story highlighted the emergency appendix operation of a young man from across the street who now was telling us the story as we bumped into him on our short neighbourhood walk.  More to come.   The trip through Terrace was unbelievable!  What a great community!  I look forward to our follow up training in the new year.  

Red Deer

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.

Connectivity

OJune 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!

Thank you!

G.L.

Instant Espresso

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.

Instant coffee.

Instant espresso.

Instant community!

Bee

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?

Picture This

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!

Open House

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!

Good Neighbour CoffeeHouse

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!