“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?  It.has.been.so.hot!!  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

Opening the Neighborhood Treasure Chest

This post was originally published by John McKnight on January 11, 2011 at www.abundantcommunity.com.  Click here to see the original post. 

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… read more »

Increasing numbers of Americans are neighborless. They are, in reality, little more than residents occupying a house in an anonymous place.  They often admit that they really don’t know the people who live around them — except to say hello. It is a regretful admission, but in their view of no more consequence than failing to wash the windows of their house.

Failure to see the costs of not having real neighborhood relationships is the primary cause of our weak local communities. And it is this weakness that is eroding our ability to lead productive, satisfying lives in the 21st century.

In this century, we have entered an era when neighborhoods must take on significant new functions if our lives are to improve.  These are the functions that our large institutions can no longer perform, because they have reached their limits.  The medical system no longer has major consequence for our health.  Most police leaders understand they have reached the limits of their ability to provide local security.  An improved environment will be shaped less by laws than our own local decisions about how we heat, light, transport ourselves, and the amount of waste we create.  The majority of our jobs are not going to be provided by large corporate systems.  Small business will be the major job source in the future of new enterprise.   Our mega-food systems provide high-cost, wastefully transported, chemically grown produce that is slowly being replaced by locally produced and healthful food.

Of even more importance is the obvious limit of trying to pay our institutions to raise our children. Even though we say, “It takes a village to raise a child,” we actually outsource most of our child raising.  They have become the children of schools, counselors, athletics, youth workers, therapists, McDonald’s, the electronic industries and the mall.  And we call these villageless children the “youth problem.”

For all these reasons, it is now clear that the good life in the 21st century will have to be grown in the local neighborhood.  Once we see the need for a strong, connected, productive local community, our basic building blocks are the skills, gifts, passions and knowledge of all our neighbors.  It is these neighborly capacities that are most often unknown to us.  It is making these capacities visible and connected that is the basic task of a functioning 21st century.

There are many ways to uncover the productive capacities of a neighborhood.  One innovative approach is illustrative of the possibilities.

In a working-class African-American neighborhood in Chicago, the neighborhood organization has initiated discussions at the block level with local residents regarding their gifts, skills, passions and special knowledge. An example of the information they are making visible is what has been found, for instance, about six randomly interviewed residents on one block.

The six people reported sixteen “gifts,” including being good with kids, a good listener, effective organizer and skilled communicator.

Asked about their skills, the six reported fourteen, including knitting, light repairs, real estate law, computers and cooking.

The twenty “passions” the neighbors reported included skating, correcting building problems, decorating, jazz, gardening and photography.

Of special significance for a “village that raises a child” are the fifteen topics the six neighbors said they were willing to teach youngsters or interested adults.  They include reading comprehension, computer technology, sewing, first aid, mathematics, skating, cooking, real estate and self-esteem.

These six residents did not know of most of their neighbor’s capacities, though they have lived on the block for some time. And no one had ever asked them about their abilities or whether they would share them.

The neighborhood organization has made the capacities of the neighbors visible.  With 30 households on the block, imagine the rich treasures that will be revealed when these “gift” discussions are held with the neighbors in the other 24 households.

It is this hidden treasure chest that can be opened in any neighborhood in North America.  Using these treasures requires connecting the capacities of neighbors. And those local neighbors good at organizing are the perfect local connective tissue.

If you are a person who has discovered and connected the productive capacity of your neighbors, we would like to hear from you.—  And if you are a neighbor interested in initiating the process of opening your neighborhood treasure chest, let us know, and we can share useful materials, and perhaps, connect you to other pioneering neighbors.

~ John ~

Re-posted with permission

Great Neighbors

Great neighbors make great neighborhoods; Great neighborhoods make great towns and cities:

Sarah is a good neighbor to us. She is friendly, quick to chat. She has work connections that give her insider information about plant sales and she passes that information along to her neighbors. She is a willing helper watching neighbor children for a minute when the mom has to run to the corner grocery. Sarah has willingly given a cup of brown sugar when her neighbor ran out. She shares generously. Sarah has a ladder I need to borrow at times and I have a snow blower she uses. We share quite a few things, making life simpler for both us. When I blow her drive, she brings over fresh baked cinnamon rolls – so good! Sarah is a good neighbor!

There is another level of neighboring. Sarah has helped her neighbors Joe and Rene connect because Rene needed someone to watch her kids get on the school bus in the morning, because she was off to work before the bus came. Joe lives with a disability and is prone to depression. Getting up on time every morning to watch the kids get on the bus helps him get up and start his day with purpose. Sarah is a connector in the neighborhood. She is also finding ways to set the table for neighbors to interact together because neighbors who interact and know each other enjoy their community more. Sarah has offered her home as a place for neighbors to gather. She has organized block parties. Sarah builds the fabric of community.

Sarah has also been active in a community listening. Sarah loves to get neighbors dreaming about making their neighborhood the best it can be. Life here will be more like heaven when… As Sarah discovers what neighbors care about, ect., around common hopes and dreams so they can work together on what they care about. Sarah is a great neighbor because she takes responsibility for the condition of her neighborhood.

  • Communities First Association: Believes great neighbors make great neighborhoods, and great neighborhoods make great towns and cities.
  • Encourages congregations to leave a redemptive imprint in the neighborhood they occupy.
  • Is raising a growing cadre of leaders who are transforming a growing number of communities.

Miracles Wanted:

  • A safe place for kids to go after school
  • Green space
  • For non-resident people who bring trouble, to leave
  • Less gang violence
  • Neighbors who talk to each other, who are nice.
  • Parents working together on summer outings for kids

This is a community group in Bellflower CA who worked together to name and begin organizing residents to change things they wanted to see improved in their neighborhood.


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