It’s simple: The place you live should be cared for. Your home, yes, but also your neighborhood. Taking an active role in the well-being of your neighborhood should be on every parent’s list. Yes, this can lead to higher property values. But, more to the point, it leads to a better, more rewarding place for you and those around you and teaches your kids a valuable lesson about what it means to be a part of a community. Becoming a member of your neighborhood means making an effort. An effort to be a good neighbor, to get more involved, to show that you want the place you live to one that everyone can enjoy and feel welcome in.
We get it: Especially as a busy parent, it’s easy to slink into the background in a neighborhood, to do your thing and your thing alone. If that’s your prerogative, we’re not going to stop you. We will, however, encourage you to not be that way. Because when you take the time to reach out, to get to know your neighbors, to welcome new people, to look out for those around you, you create a web of individuals who will do the same for you. Before you know it, you have a second family of sorts. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that having a community of support near you is more important than ever. So, to offer you a bit of guidance, here are some small, nice things to do for your neighborhood — while wearing a mask and social distancing, of course. No, this list is not complete. But it’s a start. And that’s all it takes.
Be present No, you don’t have to be super social if that’s not your style. But wave, stop and chat every now and then. Learn your neighbor’s names and faces.
Join your neighborhood’s social media. Be it NextDoor, a Facebook group, or just a big ‘ole email chain. Sure, it might be filled with some petty ramblings. But, more likely, it’s a great place to connect with those around you and learn about everything from community activities to changes in trash pickup.
No neighborhood group? Start one. It could simply be a list of phone numbers and emails so you can contact one another for safety concerns. If you don’t want to do it yourself (we get it), bring it up at the next barbecue and see if someone will get it going.
Keep your yard in good shape. No, this doesn’t mean making it uniform with every house in the neighborhood. It means doing your thing but keeping it mowed, raked, and clear of a wild amount of clutter. At the very least, your yard shouldn’t look like a graveyard of used toys.
But don’t start your damn leaf blower at 6 am. That is to say, be aware of the noise you’re creating. This doesn’t mean don’t make any noise. It means, be mindful of when you create the noise you do.
Say “Yes” Sometimes. That is, accept an offer for a beer on the back deck, agree to watch your neighbor’s kids for an hour if they need to run to the store, or to lend that lawnmower to the guy down the block.
Just make yourself available. No, you don’t want to be always on the hook from neighbors. But making it known that you are there to help if they need it — and offer that help when you think they might — is important.
Throw a barbecue, block party, or yard sale. Plan it with a few neighbors. Invite the entire block. Organize it. Have fun. Celebrate. Because, chances are, even if you know the majority of your neighbors, many of them don’t know one another. And also, because unity requires planning and participation.
Or a larger, monthly gathering. Make it’s a potluck, back deck pizza party, movie night, or standing invitation end of week drinks by the fire pit. Regular get togethers do wonders for morale.
Be a banana bread family. That is, be the family who welcomes new neighbors with something simple like a baked good. No, it doesn’t literally have to be banana bread. But banana bread rocks.
Just be welcoming. To everyone. A neighborhood is a neighborhood because of the mix of people who live there.
And don’t gossip. Or talk shit about other neighbors. There’s no point.
Volunteer. As much as possible. At a soup kitchen, at the school, at a local nursing home, at a polling location, as a coach or scout leader. A neighborhood needs an army of volunteers working together to make it hum. Get involved.
Don’t have that much time to volunteer? Donate. Books. Clothes. Meals. Money.
Start a tool lending library. Because chances are someone has a snowblower or power washer that someone else would love to borrow for an afternoon.
Did you borrow something? Give it back within a reasonable timeframe. And if you damage something you borrow, you’re on the hook for repairing it or buying a brand new one.
Be a good pet owner. Meaning: Clean up after your dog. Don’t let your dog run unattended through the neighborhood. Bring your barking dog inside. Respect that some neighbors might not be dog people and keep Bark Kent away from them.
Don’t block your neighbor’s driveway. We mean this literally (or, if you or a guest must, ask their permission ahead of time) But it’s also a good rule in general that translates to: Don’t make life harder for the people on your block because of something more convenient for you.
Are you going to the store? Call a neighbor you know might be swamped or who is older and see if you can pick something up for them.
Start a community garden. If you can, that is. Find some neighbors who want to help. Share the spoils.
Get something from that lemonade stand. And buy those Girl Scout cookies. Participate whenever you can. Especially when kids are involved.
See someone bringing in a big load of groceries? Lend a hand if you can. Be a guy who helps.
Offer to watch a neighbor’s house when they’re away. Water their plants. Feed their cat. Make sure it doesn’t disappear into a Poltergeist-esque portal.
Visit the neighborhood butcher shop. That is: shop locally at farmers markets, hardware stories, coffee shops, and other small businesses. It’s an easy way to support your community.
Arrange a toy swap. Puzzles. Games. Art supplies. Chances are, there will be a lot of interest.
Attend town hall or neighborhood association meetings. Part of the gig is being present for discussions about how the budget’s spent and what variances have been requested
Give a neighbor a call. Just to say hi and see how they are. Chances are they’ll appreciate the check in, even if they can’t chat for long.
Especially elderly neighbors who live alone. They likely need a hand with something, be it a gutter that needs to be straightened, a sidewalk that needs clearing, or someone to say hello to.
Bring in your neighbor’s trashcans. Sure, you could do it passive aggressively because they were out on the street too long and you’re worried they’ll blow away into your car. But you should do it just because good neighbors do kind things like that.
The nosy neighbor is a cliché for a reason. Give people their personal space and don’t pry.
Be that Halloween house. Or Christmas house. Or Easter egg hunt house. That is, be an inviting presence on your street during occasions so everyone understands that you’re excited to participate in the moment.
Go to the parades, festivals, or other such community events. The kids will have fun. Plus, it’s a great place to celebrate your area and meet other folks.
Clean up trash on your walk. Being a community member means picking up after other people.
Cheer. For the local sports teams or for people running at the charity 5K. Enthusiasm helps.
Install a little free library. The little wooden “take a book, leave a book” stands are an easy way to bring joy, encourage reading, and provide books to those who might not be able to afford them. The Little Free Library organization has all you need to know about creating one.
Share a meal. Maybe it’s a casserole for the family that just had a baby. Maybe it’s a dinner for the elderly woman down the street because you know she’ll appreciate it. Maybe it’s for someone just because you made paella and there’s never just a little bit of paella.
Draw a hopscotch court on your driveway with chalk. Or get a basketball hoop that kids can use. Just make an effort to make kids feel welcome. If you don’t mind the racket.
Be open about your skills. Do you play the piano? Know plants? Chances are someone on your block could benefit from — or just get enjoyment from — your knowledge. Share it if you can.
Just do you. A neighborhood benefits from the eclectic assortment of folks who inhabit it. Be yourself, try to play an active role, and good things will come.