Itís been proven that having a supportive community and a sense of belonging can actually prolong your life. But how do you foster a sense of community when you donít even know who lives next door?
You can make your neighborhood more of a neighborhood. It takes some effort, but who knows, you may live a little better and a little longer.
Know the issues facing your town and neighborhood. Attend public meetings. Talk to your neighbors about the school system, budgetary concerns, trash, graffiti and traffic. Form alliances and work to change things that you donít like.
If something in your neighborhood needs changing, band together to get it fixed. I know of one group of neighbors who rallied together to curb noise from a local truck yard. Another joined forces to clean up a nearby park. In the process, the neighbors -- united in a common cause -- got to know one another.
If thereís someone you donít know, say hello, find out his or her name and remember it. Walk around the block. Sit on your front steps for a change. Get out into your neighborhood. See who lives there. Just knowing who lives near you, having a face and name to attach to a house, can make a street seem more like a neighborhood.
. Invite your next-door neighbor over for a glass of iced tea. If someone on your block has a baby or has just moved in, drop off a small gift or a tray of brownies. Send a card or a bottle of champagne, even if you donít know them very well. Theyíll feel like the neighbors care and youíll have a new friend on the block. Help an elderly neighbor with her trash cans, mow beyond your own property line or share your surplus zucchini.
Unite the kids
. Sponsor a holiday bike parade (Labor Day, Fourth of July or Memorial Day are good times). Provide streamers and lemonade and invite the neighborhood children to decorate their bikes, strollers or themselves and parade up and down the block. Start a neighborhood camp.
Start a newsletter.
Now that so many people have computers, itís not a big deal to print up a sheet outlining the news of the block. Ask neighbors to contribute stories or short biographies for insight as to who lives behind the doors on your street. Get the kids to distribute it or have the older kids take it on as a summer project.
Organize a block party
. Pick a time when people are likely to be home -- late Sunday afternoon is a good choice -- and send out flyers. You can collect money and provide the food and drink or make it potluck. Most towns will close a street to traffic if you ask or you can have the party in a local park or playground. Be sure to include activities for kids and adults. Ask people to contribute their musical talents or extra special toys (kites, gliders, wading pools, etc.) for entertainment. Keep the momentum going with an end-of-summer block party, Halloween parties and New Yearís open houses.
. Start a neighborhood baby-sitting coop or playgroup. Have a yard sale and invite your neighbors to participate. Begin a 6 a.m. walking club or a monthly dinner group. In one nearby town, a group of neighborhood men play basketball once a week. Another group of fathers meets at the local playground with their children on Saturday mornings.
Cut everyone some slack
. Put up with some little things. If your neighborís friend parks in front of your driveway once or twice, donít complain. Itís not worth ruining a relationship. When the kid across the street has a major party, instead of calling the police, put in some earplugs and be glad it doesnít happen every night.
Carol Band is a neighborly mom and a frequent contributor to United Parenting Publications.