In the previous posts in this series about getting to know our neighbors (sign up below to receive all the posts by email), we discussed first getting acquainted with our neighbors and then building relationships with them. Once we have built relationships with at least some of our neighbors, we’re ready to move on to the next step, group events. Even though it is tempting to skip getting acquainted and building relationships and go straight to a group event, such as a backyard barbecue, we have discovered that the group events always function more smoothly when we know and have already established a relationship with everyone we invite to the event.
Group events are great opportunities for neighbors to get to know each other better, both those we already know, as well as those we barely know (even though those people may live just half a block away) or don’t know at all. Through group events we will discover new things about each other, including shared interests. We often discover that neighbors we assumed were unfriendly are actually very friendly.
When we’re planning the event, we try to make sure that everyone we invite knows someone else in the group in addition to my wife and me. Since we know everyone in the group, we introduce people to anyone they don’t know. Since everyone already knows someone, the people they know also introduce them to other people. Conversations that begin at group events are often continued in the days and years ahead.
Our First Neighborhood Group Event
My leg was in a non-walking cast. I was unable to help clean the house or to prepare most of the food that would be necessary for a New Year’s Eve party. But our neighbor was terminally ill with cancer and this would be her last New Year’s Eve. We agreed that if she could come for even ten minutes, we’d have a party. She said she would come. Then we invited more neighbors.
My wife cleaned. I made a shopping list. We went to Costco (me in a wheelchair) and bought take-and-bake pizza, salad, hummus, a cheese log, crackers, cheese trays, sparkling cider and champagne. We came home and I made cheesecake and persimmon pudding.
Everyone we invited came, fourteen in all, including our sick friend. She looked fabulous (it was her “best day” between chemo treatments). We talked. We swapped stories. They stayed (even our sick friend stayed almost three hours). We toasted each other. Oh yes, we ate, but the food was not the centerpiece of the event. Spending time together was.
That was a special night, and everyone there understood that. After the event, everyone said they wanted to do it again, and those present who do not live in the neighborhood asked to be invited to the next event. Some people called us later and asked for each other’s phone numbers. New relationships were begun and old ones strengthened.
Our Second Neighborhood Group Event – Cinco de Mayo Party
Over the course of throwing group events, we have discovered that people love theme parties, especially those centered around holidays. Since we live near the border, we love to celebrate Cinco de Mayo (5th of May). We invited a group of neighbors to a Cinco de Mayo party on Sunday May 1, which was the day our community celebrated Fiesta/Cinco de Mayo.
We made enchiladas and rice, provided drinks and asked everyone to bring a side dish or dessert that went with the theme. Bringing something to share makes people feel more involved and relieves them from feeling obligated to return the invitation. Sixteen people and lots of food arrived around 4:30.
Neighbors met neighbors they barely knew or didn’t know, and reconnected with those they already knew. Half of the group had come to the first event on New Year’s Eve, and half had not. One of the “new” people had never been involved in any neighborhood activity. Everyone (except my wife and I) met at least three or four neighbors they had not known previously.
Bin Laden and Group Events
We ate and everyone talked and talked. We were still sitting and talking when one man received a phone call telling him the president was about to make an announcement concerning Bin Laden. We turned on the television. After the president’s speech, someone asked, “Do you remember where you were when you heard the news about Kennedy? Now we’ll remember where we were when we heard the news about Bin Laden.”
Near the end of the evening, my wife and I proposed a “block party” for the 4th of July. Everyone liked the idea. The neighborhood is really getting into this. We now have two co-chairs and people from other streets in the neighborhood are asking if they can come. We’re inviting everyone on our street, and those people may invite anyone else from the neighborhood, as well as their friends and relatives. We have not seen this much enthusiasm since we moved here. We may get 30 or 300. We’re passing out “Save The Date” flyers today and tomorrow.
We Like Each Other
Our neighbors did not want to leave. They love spending time with each other. The party finally broke up around 9:00. Two people asked us if they could come back later “just to talk.”
What is it we are doing?
We are building community in our community.
We are not asking them to “join our community” at church. Instead, we focus on nurturing the community where they already live – in their very own neighborhood.
People are talking to people they thought they didn’t like. People are meeting neighbors a few houses away who they didn’t know and neighbors are spending more time talking with each other. Neighbors who didn’t attend either of the first two group events have told us that they’ve heard about the events, would like to come to our next event and are looking forward to the July 4th block/neighborhood party.
In the next post we’ll discuss some pitfalls to avoid when getting to know our neighbors, and then will conclude this series with “Loving Without an Agenda.”
Until then, have you hosted any group events? What did you do, and what was the reaction and response from your neighbors? Leave a comment below!