A Great Way to Start to Get to Know Your Neighbors

Efforts to rebuild the neighborhoods are hampered by the fact that new residents moving in, whether tenants or homeowners, do not know each other and have no knowledge of past revitalization efforts. “Many work two or three jobs to get by,” notes Nelson Butten, “and others work and go to school. They have no time to meet their neighbors.” Often no structure remains within the neighborhood to foster their involvement. The social fabric of communities, already damaged by foreclosures, is further frayed when people lack the time and opportunity to build relationships. Yet without a shared vision of what they like and what needs to be changed, residents will have a difficult time rebuilding neighborhoods hurt by the foreclosure crisis.

If you think about it, hospitality may be the most ancient and universal of community-building strategies. Throughout time and in all cultures, it has been recognized that there is no greater act of compassion and fellowship than to welcome others to share your shelter and food.

Given the isolation and fear that tends to keep neighbors from neighbors, this is perhaps more true today than it has been for many years. Food sets the mood in a NeighborCircle by saying, ‘not only are you welcome in my home, you are someone with whom I would like to break bread.’ For those who love to cook and entertain, the NeighborCircle provides a great oppor¬tunity to display talent and creativity. Many of our hosts have created elabo¬rate meals for Circle guests, but simple meals or quality take-out have worked just as well. Preparing and serving the food for the Circle should not be a stressful event, so unless the

They begin with a resident volunteering to host a NeighborCircle in his or her own home. Over the course of a month a group of 8 to 10 families will come together at the host’s home three times for dinner and conversation. The meetings are assisted by one or two facilitators trained by Lawrence Community Works.

At the first meeting, residents simply get to know each other over a meal provided by the host. They talk about the different places they have lived in their lifetime and put a pin on the map as they talk about these places. The strategy acknowledges that personal relationships are foundational to efforts to build community. In Lawrence’s diverse neighborhoods, racial, ethnic and economic differences act as barriers between residents, so a special effort must be made to create a safe place where they can come together. The facilitator may ask questions related to where they lived.

At the second meeting participants discuss what they like about their neighborhood and what they want to see changed. They begin by brainstorming ideas and issues and must emerge from the meeting with one or two things they want to work on. They meet a third time to develop strategies to address the priorities agreed to in the second meeting. The 2nd and 3rd meetings are what NT teaches as part of mobilizing a neighborhood. Some NeighborCircles continue getting together after their first three meetings in order to work through their issues. Others do not.

The facilitators are a key component of the NeighborCircles’ success. They are typically volunteers who receive a small stipend for their assistance. The facilitators receive training on facilitation techniques as well as in the NeighborCircle model. Use of volunteers means that many more NeighborCircles can be organized than Lawrence CommunityWorks staff could do on their own. The facilitators also gain valuable skills that they can use elsewhere, either in their Jobs or in other volunteer interests.

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