Kids Count

Kimi Zimmerman-Community enCompass

When I started surveying last summer/fall, people all over the neighborhood talked about their concern for the kids here. A lot of them had been doing things on their own, but with no neighborhood school to unite all the kids, there had been limited opportunities to come together in collective efforts with others to do something. One week before the due date, I caught wind of the youth grants that the City of Muskegon was awarding to various groups. We had no concrete plans for anything at this point in the ABCD process, but we didn’t want to let the opportunity pass us by without giving it a shot.

I had been having some conversations about ABCD with one of our neighbors, Chris, who had been doing a lot of great things with the youth in Muskegon, and he introduced me to Tawon, who lived across the street from the church. Both of these men had grown up in the neighborhood and were working to rebuild the community they had once “helped make bad before,” as they would say. Knowing the neighborhood and a lot of the kids here, Chris and Tawon did the dreaming and brainstorming, and I did the dictating. What we came up with was a two-week long youth recreation program called Kids Count for kids ages 7-12 in our neighborhood. We applied for the grant through Allen Avenue CRC, but the motivation behind it extended far beyond the church walls. The purpose of the program was to enhance the overall health of our youth with regards to their physical, spiritual, emotional and psychological well-being. At the same time, we were seeking to foster a stronger sense of community amongst the children and adults of our neighborhood. The grant was obviously about the kids, but it was also just as much about coming together as residents, churches and other neighborhood groups for the sake of our community and creating a broader support network for everyone involved.

Within a month, we found out that we had received a grant for $750. Over the next three months, we called on residents, church members from AACRC and other neighborhood churches, businesses and neighborhood groups to come together and join us in collaborating around the youth program. What resulted was a series of six meetings which ended up involving twenty-six residents and members of three different neighborhood churches who gathered to plan the youth program. We were starting from scratch, so our first few meetings had to cover the basics like what exactly we wanted this program to look like, how many volunteers were fully committed to the being there every day, how many kids we would be able to have in the program, how we were going to advertise, what needed to be included on the applications and waivers, how we were going to get the word out, and so forth. Once we were able to lay some of this groundwork, we started working on more details, such as where each day of the program would take place, what time we would start, how we were going to feed the kids, what activities we were going to do, what supplies we would need in order to do the activities, etc. The list of things to do never seemed to end, but neighbors and church members stepped up and took responsibility for everything that needed to get done. By the time June 18 finally came around, we were ready to go.

We were prepared to have 20 kids between the ages of seven and eleven, but we started our first day with fourteen. One of the beauties of neighborhood programs, however, is that each child usually has at least 2-3 other siblings/cousins/neighbors/friends that they will bring with them the next day as long as the program meets the minimum “fun requirement”. By the time our second day started, we were up to twenty kids and had to stop accepting applications from the kids. Activities took place at three different locations around our neighborhood, with each week ending in a field trip. Our first field trip consisted of a four-mile bike ride that started down by Lake Michigan and ended at Heritage Landing, a landmark in Muskegon. The second week and last day of the program entailed a cookout, a dune hike, and a swim in Lake Michigan, which was a first for many of the kids. Over the two weeks, we focused on respect, so we incorporated that value in as many contexts as possible: respect for ourselves-bodies and minds, other kids in the program, volunteers and neighbors, the venues we went to and our community in general. Whether it was in times of laughter or moments of discipline, we used each opportunity to instill in the kids the importance of respect in the way that we treated them and they way we expected to them to treat others.

Kids Count was a collaborative effort between residents and neighborhood churches to build a stronger support network for everyone involved and begin to foster more relationships as neighbors caring about our neighborhood. For Allen Avenue CRC, in particular, it provided our members an opportunity to come alongside of our neighbors here rather than being the leaders and ones in control. Everyone involved was able to bring their individual gifts, resources and knowledge to the table. Individually, none of us would have been able to pull it off; but together, it ended up being a beautiful expression of love for our community, and it’s just the beginning.

“Hi Neighbor!”

Judy Van Dyke–Good Samaritan Ministries

Across the street from Shannon, one of our Community Connector’s, lives an elderly neighbor, Mary.  Mary has lived in the neighborhood for 34 years yet didn’t know many neighbors around her.  Because of this she didn’t involve herself with the things happening on her block.

Shannon took a chance one day and walked over to Mary’s house when she was having a yard sale. This was the start of many times that Shannon said “Hi” to Mary as she walked through the neighborhood. During that time Mary began to hear neighbors yelling, “Hi, Neighbor” to each other on the block. This was also something new that the neighbors started doing together.

One day, Shannon was surprised when Mary yelled out, “Hi, Neighbor” as she walked by.  This was a turning point for Mary.  Over time Shannon was able to learn her name and they had many more conversations.

During that time Mary received a code violation letter from the city regarding the disrepair of the exterior of her home, garage and her backyard.  She also has problems with collecting material items to the point where it was affecting her emotionally and the way she lived.  Through the collaborative efforts of the City of Holland, Evergreen Commons – a local non-profit serving senior citizens, Good Samaritan Ministries and our neighborhood connectors, Mary was able to fix up her home.

One weekend Mary and her husband John, some family members, neighbors, and Shannon picked up rocks, cleaned out trash, and pulled weeds in the backyard.  Next they built a fence, painted the garage, patched concrete steps, and trimmed the house windows.  Since then Mary is more talkative with the kids and neighbors around her. She now has a big garden in the backyard with potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes. She called Shannon over to see the first vegetables of the season, and gave her the biggest tomato to take home. She is sharing her vegetables with the neighborhood and is excited about having a veggie party when she harvests the garden.

Shannon didn’t even realize Mary had a husband before this happened because she never saw him. Now John comes outside and sits in his green chair in the front yard and talks with the neighbors. A simple gesture of saying, “Hi, Neighbor” has made a big difference in the lives of neighbors living together on one small block.  Imagine what could happen if every block started intentionally saying, “Hi, Neighbor.”

** Good Samaritan Ministries provides leadership for this neighborhood site development with four neighborhood churches and a community partner. Two full-time Community Connectors serve as AmeriCorps volunteers to do Asset Based Community Development in this central city of Holland neighborhood.

The Neighbor Challenge Segue

By V. Reber

Thank you for joining me on this journey.  The last several weeks have been eye-opening as we have intentionally set out to meet and know our neighbors.  Honestly assessing our fears and assumptions has led us to make changes and take chances.  We’ve made that long walk across the street…and survived! But, like the childhood tune “The Song That Never Ends” neither does the challenge of building relationships with our neighbors.  So, what’s next?  Segue, please.

There’s a transition that happens once we know our neighbor’s names, learn more about the things they care about, and change our habits so that we are a visible presence on our street.  We have moved from being strangers to having a connectedness that lends itself to:

Helping:  Retrieve your neighbor’s garbage can from the curb, offer to water plants when someone has surgery or is out-of-town, or lend a hand when you see someone carrying a heavy load.

Sharing:  Lend tools, give away vegetables or flowers from your garden, have a conversation.

Connecting:  Introduce other neighbors to each other and to community resources/information. For example, our neighborhood uses a web platform that allows neighbors to share information.  Recently a neighbor shared that she is starting her own cupcake business, so I “connected” her to the site as a (free) way for her to spread the word. Telling other neighbors about her business, or introducing her to someone else with a similar interest/background is another way I can serve as connector on her behalf.

Hospitality:  Invite a neighbor for dessert, host a cookout, throw a block party.  Think about ways to showcase the gifts of your neighbors whenever possible.

Associations:  Organize a neighborhood group (this can be broader than but include “watch” groups), start a knitting group, running club, or dance class.  (My neighborhood has the last two!), band together around a specific need (tutoring, crossing guards for a local school, alley maintenance).

The Neighbor Challenge doesn’t end here. Our final corporate challenge is this:  to continue and to encourage others to begin.  I’ll be sharing stories periodically as I continue, and I would love to hear and share your stories!  Comment here or e-mail me at [email protected]

V. Reber is a wife, mother, and assistant with CFA who aspires to be a great neighbor.

The Neighbor Challenge  1 – posted 6/27

The Neighbor Challenge 2  – posted 7/6

The Neighbor Challenge 3 – posted 7/11

The Neighbor Challenge 4 – posted 7/18

The Neighbor Challenge 5 – posted 8/1

The Neighbor Challenge: Week 4

By V. Reber

Week 3′s challenge is known as “Head, Hands, Heart” among many who follow Asset-Based Community Development.  The idea is that every person has something to offer, to “gift” to those around him…to his neighbors.  I did this activity a few months ago, and it was strange how difficult it seemed.  When faced with writing down the things I know about, the things I can do, and that I care about…”Eeeeek.”  (And this seemed to be the general consensus in the room.)  So, if you passed on this challenge, take a few minutes and put yourself out there.  Here’s my list:

What does this have to do with getting to know your neighbors?  I had an opportunity to hear Peter Block speak recently, and he noted that we live in a culture that identifies people by their deficiencies and not by their gifts.  I have lived in places where I referred to my neighbors this way, “The ones that play Rock Band at midnight.”  “The ones that never make eye contact.”  “The ones with the dog that won’t shut up!”   What if I had gotten to know those neighbors, their dreams.  What if I had gotten to know their head, hands, and heart?

Last week, one of my neighbors let me know that if we ever needed pants hemmed, or something mended she would be happy to help.  She also asked me if I play the piano, because she would like to learn…it’s a dream of hers.  Another neighbor offered to identify the plants growing in our yard.  After doing this exercise, I also know what I can share.  I’m excited to learn more about the people I meet, and find out where our interests and passions intersect.  Learning names is a great start, but it certainly isn’t the end.  I’m looking for common ground.

Week 4

Question:  Do you know your neighbors by their deficiencies or their gifts?

Challenge: Talk to one neighbor about what they know about, what they can do, and/or what they care about.

V. Reber is a wife, mother, and assistant with CFA who aspires to be a great neighbor.

The Neighbor Challenge  1 – posted 6/27

The Neighbor Challenge 2  – posted 7/6

Friday Food For Thought: Hospitality

Hospitality by John McKnight

Question: Why is so important?
Thoughts: One key to a strong and satisfying community is the spirit of welcome and hospitality. This spirit powers community by recognizing we need the gifts of everyone, and everyone needs to give their gifts. This calls for a special effort to meet your neighbors who have been marginal or isolated-the strangers in our midst.

Question: How do we begin?
Thoughts: It begins with some very basic questions.

  1. Who are the strangers in the neighborhood. Newcomers, loners, even adversaries.
  2. How do we identify their gifts as the key to connection and hospitality.
  3. How might strangers be connected. Guided by knowing what their gifts are, we can ask what neighbors or associations would value these gifts. How might these people become useful? How do we make the connection?

Our Questions to You:
What strangers have you identified?
What gifts do they have?
How have you connected them to other neighbors?

Posted with permission.  See the original post here.

John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development.

The Neighbor Challenge: Week 3

By V. Reber

After last week’s challenge to meet a neighbor, I’ve been a little nervous.  I was out-of-town all weekend, and that left only a few short days before my deadline.  What if I didn’t meet someone?  So, I’ve been waiting and watching expectantly.  I peeked out the front window at every pass to no avail.  Then, this morning, as I was getting ready to leave I spotted someone.

Now came the moment I had been waiting for, or maybe not.  After all, it was clearly not a good time.  The lady I was planning to meet (unbeknownst to her) was obviously in a hurry.  She was trying to round-up her kids to leave, and was giving orders that were being largely ignored.  I panicked momentarily….  I’m a mom.  I’ve had those moments.  Did I really want to walk in on that with a “Hi, I’m your new neighbor.”  Hmmmm….AND my hands were full.  I needed to get to the grocery store.

It was in that moment of indecision that I realized that if I waited for a “good time” I might never meet my neighbors.  So, I walked into the fray, and it was delightful.  The woman said she was glad that I had stopped her, and our chat (which lasted less than three minutes) created an open door to more conversations in the future.

There are many obstacles to meeting neighbors.  Some are harder to navigate than others, but the fact is they are obstacles not barriers.  Busyness, not wanting to intrude, fear of looking and feeling silly, language…all of these are things that may make getting to know our neighbors more difficult, but what’s the flip side?  What are we missing out on if we choose to stay isolated?  What is our neighborhood missing out on if we aren’t using our gifts to make it a better place?

Week #3

Question: What are you good at?  What are you passionate about?


1.  Write down three things that you know about.

2.Write down three things that you can do with your hands.

3.Write down three things that you are passionate about/care about.

V. Reber is a wife, mother, and assistant with CFA who aspires to be a great neighbor.

The Neighbor Challenge  1 – posted 6/27

The Neighbor Challenge 2  – posted 7/6

Image credit: marish / 123RF Stock Photo

The Neighbor Challenge–Week 2

By V. Reber

Last week I challenged you (and myself) to name our neighbors.  Knowing someone’s name is fundamental to relationship building.  It’s the start of our story, and when you take time to learn someone’s name you show you value them.  I have lived on my street for two weeks.  However, our family has lived in the broader neighborhood (an area that encompasses several blocks) for over a year.  So, let’s see how I did with week one’s challenge….

First, I’d like to say that even as I type this I am fighting a strong urge to list all of the reasons that I don’t know more neighbor’s names.  However, it may be more useful (and less pathetic) for me to explain how I met the neighbors that I do know.

Prior to moving into our house a family on the block that we already knew had a “Welcome to the Block” party (it was also a farewell to the couple that was moving away.)  Several neighbors attended, and we were able to spend a few hours learning names and hearing people’s stories (how long they had lived there, changes over the years, etc.).  The family that organized the party gave us the best housewarming gift, the opportunity to start building relationships with our neighbors.

So, now comes the real evaluation…how have I done meeting people on my own?

Does waving from across the street count?!!  We’ve been in the house unpacking….Ok, there are the excuses!  The fact is I haven’t made much of an effort.  I’ve started to walk across the street a couple of times, and have let that moment of awkwardness that seems inevitable turn me back home.  However, I’m not giving up.  I want to know my neighbors.

So, the challenge for next week, should you choose to accept it…meet a neighbor you haven’t met.

Week #2

Question:  What excuses do we make for not meeting our neighbors?

Challenge:  Introduce yourself to a neighbor you haven’t met.

V. Reber is a wife, mother, and assistant with CFA who aspires to be a great neighbor.

The Neighbor Challenge 1 – posted 6/27

The Neighbor Challenge 3 – posted 7/11

The Neighbor Challenge

Written by V. Reber

Mr. Rogers had it right when he sang, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”  While Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was idyllic, many of the elements of the show highlight basic principles of Asset Based Community Development. He spent each half hour highlighting the gifts of his neighbors, asking them questions, and learning what was important to them.  Neighborhood problems (make-believe or not) were solved by those in the neighborhood using teamwork and service to one another.  It’s not a stretch to say that this popular icon of my generation was encouraging the type of neighborliness that we talk about, teach about, and hopefully model.

So, where have all the neighbors gone? Have we forgotten how to be neighborly, or simply decided there’s just no time?  I’m asking myself a lot of these questions as our family settles into a new neighborhood. Join me on this journey as I challenge myself (and you) to an honest assessment of ourselves as “neighbor.”

Week #1

Question:  What are the names of your neighbors?

Challenge:  Draw a diagram of your street with each house represented by a square.  Now label as many houses as you can by family name.  (If you’re really brave, draw the surrounding blocks as well!)

Next week I’ll share how I did…what did you discover?

V. Reber is a wife, mother, and assistant with CFA who aspires to be a great neighbor.


The Neighbor Challenge 2 – posted 7/6

The Neighbor Challenge 3 – posted 7/11


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