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.