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.
Many things happen in a week:
A Tupperware party revealing that your neighbours were not really who you thought they were.
An outdoor movie on the garage door, which included moving furniture outside.
Driving a neighbours truck to another province.
The annual neighbourhood horseshoe tournament.
A prayer request for a neighbours young adult fighting cancer.
And much more trusting, loving and sharing…
I just heard from a Neighbourhood Life participant how they love seeing their neighbourhood relationships flourish. This past week they heard about the many apples that fall to the ground and are not used, and brought it up in a discussion with their neighbour. The neighbour admitted that she would not now what to do with all their apples either, which is where the apples sauce lessons began. And then the variations of apple pie. The discussion continued over time, revealing the truth of how so many need someone to show them how to make jam, or sauce or…… It’s not enough to think that people will look to YouTube. Its the relationship and the modelling that shows how it can be simple and fun….and rewarding, not to mention a good use of apples. And its a good opportunity for neighbours to connect. These particular neighbours went on to say that they now have the keys to his truck in case something happens, and they check on each others homes while the other is on vacation. Recognize the trust? Feel the love?
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!
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?
When we talk about healthy neighbourhoods, we understand that food is a staple that brings neighbours together. But we never thought our favourite spring rolls would play a part in our neighbourhood the way our experience unfolded. At the time, we had only lived in our neighbourhood for a couple years and had been more intentional about connecting with neighbours. At that time, my husband Chad and I were looking for a lady I had bought spring rolls from before at a local market. I decided to post an ad on a Facebook Buy and Sell site, searching for her, and ended up getting a flood of responses from people, telling me who she was and how good her spring rolls were. I messaged her about it and we started talking about the spring rolls and how I would pick them up. We discussed it, and she said she could drop off the spring rolls if I didn’t live too far away. Since I have small children, I thought this would be great, so we discussed where each other live. I told her I live close to downtown Red Deer to which she responded, “So do I.” Then I proceeded to tell her I lived in the Fairview neighbourhood, and she responded with “Oh, I live in Fairview too.” Albeit, this was a surprise to both of us, we continued to tell each other where we lived. “This will be perfect – I will just walk to your house.” She asked for my address and then said, “We are neighbours! I live just a few doors down from you.” So, she came over, and I now have access to an endless supply of our favourite spring rolls. From this time we met, she was able to tell us a lot of stories about our neighbourhood since she had lived there forever. We not only learned a lot about the history of where we lived for two years, but we started to discuss the future of our neighbourhood. We talked about having an ice cream social in the neighbourhood and about the block parties that used to exist. We learned about her history with spring rolls and abut her plans. It opened the eyes of a couple of neighbours in terms of our neighbourhood. As it stands, we were certainly grateful in many ways and have come to appreciate the value of neighbours. And it all stared because I wanted to get some of our favourite spring roles for my husband’s birthday.
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!
“I had been having a lot of terrible headaches. On November 6, 2006, they got so bad that I didn’t go to work. My neighbour, Josh, who I had only had very little relationship with (only said “Hi” now and then), became interested in the fact that I had not left for work. He came along and noticed that my truck was still in the backyard, got concerned and phoned up to Edmonton to see if they had heard from me. They hadn’t, so Josh and his wife started looking through the windows and thought they saw something. They called 911, came into my house and found me passed out on the floor. I was taken to Red Deer hospital, and an hour later, to Foothills in Calgary, which is where I woke up. I’d had a brain aneurism and it burst. All I remember is having such bad, bad headaches, and then, ‘bang’, I woke up in Calgary. My neighbour then became my best friend because he saved my life. If it weren’t for Josh, I would not be here today.
Josh and his wife were just my neighbours – I didn’t really know them. But after they helped me out, we became good friends. He went through a divorce and got custody of his son, who called me Grandpa. I used to babysit Jacob quite a bit when I got out of the hospital. There is much to be thankful for when neighbours take an interest in each others lives.
Before the aneurism, we only knew each other as people living next to each other, that’s it. But after my aneurism, Josh visited me in the hospital. He also did lots of other things with me: took me out for dinners, went to Westerner Days in Red Deer, the Ponoka Stampede, rafting on the Red Deer River, BBQs at his house, went to church with him, to Smitty’s Buffet, etc. Josh bought guest passes for the Collicutt Centre, which is also when I taught his son how to swim when he was about 8 or 9. It has been refreshing to see how our relationship has grown.
It took a brain aneurism on my part for my neighbour to invest, literally, in my life. We are now the best of friends; in fact his son, now 13, says I’m his best friend – his dad just gets to come along!