If you were driving in the neighborhood of Orchard Park, Modesto around seven o'clock Tuesday night, you may have noticed a circle of people standing around a corner of the park under the shade of the trees and thought, What are they doing over there? Some of us brought lawn chairs, one of us brought a blanket to share, but most of us stood with our kids or our dogs.
It was the first "meet & greet" of the Orchard Park Neighbors, and we were all just talking to Christy Beffa and two other members of the Modesto Police Department about our crime and traffic concerns. We started out as a Facebook group that didn't really take off, and then relocated to nextdoor.com after their website was mentioned through Love Modesto.
Actually, many there already knew each other from a prior Neighborhood Watch group whose meetings had lapsed years ago (before Facebook, and well before nextdoor.com!), and Tuesday night was a welcome revitalization and expansion of their existing group.
Nextdoor.com allows you to invite your neighbors by mailing out postage-paid postcards for you. They start you off with 100 postcards, and 40 every month after that. You can use the postcard message they've already prepared, or you can modify it to suit your neighborhood, or mention an upcoming event like the one we just had. They also have a tool that will create event flyers you can print out and hand out to your closest neighbors--in person, preferably.
One person who could not make it to the event was very appreciative that we are able to share on nextdoor.com a picture of the "Quick Reference Numbers" handout we received from the Modesto Police Department. We are also able to plan future events (National Night Out is on August 5), report crime problems, recommend great local businesses, get help finding the owners of a lost dog, and so much more.
Do you know your neighbors?
We only knew our neighbors on the right (looking out our front door) and not very well. Our excuse: All our other neighbors are renters that don't stick around very long.
This wasn't our first Love Modesto, and I don't remember how, but I remember being encouraged to join or start a Neighborhood Watch group through Love Modesto in 2013, probably through their Facebook page. I think they were encouraging everyone to join the Art of Neighboring movement (side-note: I recently read the book) and mark our houses on the map there.
Then the girls Ariel Castro kidnapped had escaped--their neighbors never knowing they were in his house all those years. I don't have any reason to believe any of my neighbors is an Ariel Castro, but I began to think, Am I doing my part as a neighbor? People used to know their neighbors, used to say hello, make eye contact and smile, wave as they drove by. Now we are in "the zone" until we trigger the garage door to open up and let us in to our bat caves and trigger it again to shut behind us and close off the outside world.
So mid-May, I marked my house on the Art of Neighboring map and emailed the Neighborhood Watch contact person at the time (Christy Beffa is the new one) and she said there wasn't anything active in my area. Introvert that I am, I started a Facebook group at the end of May, printed out invitations to join it, and mentioned it on Modesto-related Facebook pages and groups (my favorite is "You Know You Grew Up In 'MODESTO' When ???????????). It was a start.
Isn't it ironic that Modesto does events like Love Modesto, but most of us don't even know our own neighbors? Check out these stats from this past Spring's Love Modesto Day:
- 4,000+ volunteers
- 14,000+ volunteer hours
- $126,000+ in volunteer hours donated (minimum wage)
- 60+ churches
- 20+ schools
- 68 projects
- 5 apartment/home makeovers
- 27 parks, trails and creeks cleaned up
- 25 non-profits benefitted with service
- 3 projects benefitting local food banks
- 6 retirement/convalescent homes loved
- 3 projects benefitting soldiers
- 4 projects benefitting the homeless
Imagine if we were that "there" for our own neighbors?
A year later and we still hadn't really met our neighbors, but we still "Loved Modesto" by helping clean up Savage Middle School. I know a lot of other projects got along very well, but we were pretty much busy working on our own with the people we already knew.
We totally missed the party downtown--everyone was going out to their projects just as we were arriving (unfortunately, I don't have a thing for being on-time). But it was good to do that for the school, and we didn't do it for the festivities or the social interaction.
Still, there was an uneasy feeling that we should have felt and expressed more warmth for these people who all got together to love our local school. Thankfully, Love Modesto was making improvements on getting neighbors connected through nextdoor.com so that our love for Modesto could soak into our neighborhoods throughout the seasons and not just happen one day out of the year.
We joined nextdoor.com, and the postcards they sent out for us (and our neighbors as they joined and began inviting their neighbors) proved much more effective. I also responded to an invitation for neighboring training put out by City Ministry Network's Marvin Jacobo.
At a leadership meeting for my church (Redeemer), my pastor passed out a block magnet similar to the one shown here, and we began trying to contact our neighbors, taking walks and talking to those we would come across.
We took it slow and let people get a feel for things on nextdoor.com, set a date for a meet & greet, met Dave and Wendi Vukovich (the captains of the original Neighborhood Watch group surrounding the park), and waited for June 24 to arrive.
I feel really good about what happened in the park Tuesday night. We have very friendly neighbors with very real concerns. It was good to hear them be able to express those concerns to the Modesto Police Department, and to shake their hands and return their smiles.
I don't want to tell you all the awesomeness of nextdoor.com--I want you to go join it and check it all out for yourself. Invite all your neighbors, encourage them to invite theirs, and let your love for Modesto spread into your neighborhoods all year long. It won't happen over night, but who has time for it to?
If you are a little or a lot freaked out by connecting with your neighbors because you are an introvert, hey--so am I. I highly recommend a book I'm reading, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, recommended by my pastor. See Susan Cain's TED talk here.
Who knows what our neighborhood will look like when the next Love Modesto Day roles around, April 18, 2015? The first thing that comes to mind is that maybe all of our neighbors will do a LoveMo project together? :)
And thank you to Love Modesto for the Day, and Love Our Neighborhoods for making it last. :)