I love to share real people stories here on The Welcoming Table because it helps you see what it's like to be intentional in building friendships around you.
Today I'm sharing an interview with Dana, a wife and mom of three who believes in the importance of building community in her neighborhood. She and her family have actively worked to get to know their neighbors and to help them get to know each other, too. I wanted you to meet her so that you can get some ideas of ways to reach out to the people who live literally right around you.
Join me in welcoming Dana to the blog!
Hi, Dana! Tell me why getting to know your neighbors is important to you.
I've put effort into knowing my neighbors for several reasons. One, it just plain feels good to know who lives around you. It provides a sense of security when you know who is coming and going on a regular basis in your neighborhood.
It's even better when you build the kind of relationship with your neighbors where you can ask them to look after your home when you're out of town or grab packages being delivered when you're gone. When you make it known that YOU are a neighbor that others can ask for help from, you'll find that your neighbors are quick to offer their help as well.
Another reason I love getting to know my neighbors is that as a stay at home mom to little kids, this season of life can be very isolating and lonely. What better way to ensure some sort of social life and community than to build it right in your own neighborhood? It's hard to get out to meet friends for coffee when you're at home home with little ones, but it's easy to invite a neighbor friend over to your home for coffee while the kids play in the yard.
What are some common challenges people face when trying to get to know their neighbors?
I think a lot of people just have a hard time getting out of their comfort zone and taking the first step to introduce themselves to their neighbors, especially if they didn't see it modeled for them growing up.
I've found that even if I feel anxious or nervous about approaching a new neighbor, taking an inexpensive but meaningful gift and bringing the kids along is a great ice breaker. I personally try to make it a point to go introduce myself to new neighbors shortly after moving in so I can tell them about our neighborhood Facebook group and our Little Free Library.
Honestly, once the ice is broken, it only gets better from there!
What are the biggest things you've done to create community in your neighborhood?
A Neighborhood Facebook page
I decided to start a neighborhood Facebook page. I met a neighbor that had been living in the neighborhood for a long time and knew a lot of people, so I asked if she would help me get the word out. Within two days we had over 30 members.
It has become such an effective way to plan neighborhood yard sales, alert each other about questionable activity in the neighborhood, ask about missing pets, and to simply ask for recommendations for things like landscaping help, repair work, etc. It's also really helped people put names and faces together.
Little Free Library
Within a couple of months of starting the neighborhood Facebook group, I threw out the idea of opening a Little Free Library on our property and the interest and excitement was overwhelming. Once my husband and I committed to using space on our corner lot for the Library and giving the neighbors an opportunity to financially contribute to the actual structure and registration fees, the neighborhood raised almost the entire amount needed! We also had so many big donations of books right from the beginning.
The Library has become a fun place for parents to visit with their little kids on sunny days and even a meet-up spot for some of the older kids in the evening. I try to do fun things for holidays to keep everyone interested, but honestly, the LFL is pretty self-sustaining as everyone does a great job of giving and taking books. There is always something new to enjoy for both kids and adults! And as the Library steward, every single time I look out the window and see a visitor, it feels like Christmas.
Ladies' Craft and Game Nights
Opportunities to get together with new friends or neighbors present themselves if you look for them! Last year, a neighbor posted a picture of a wreath she made, and several of us noticed it and wanted to learn how to do the same. She offered to teach us, so I offered to host a craft night! I threw together a charcuterie board and we had a great time!
We've also had ladies game nights for a laidback get-together. I made some treats, and everyone brought over their favorite games.
Crafts and games are a great way to give everyone something to do and something to talk about.
So far we've had two parties, one in the summer and one in the fall. In the summer, my husband and I offered to take care of hot dogs for the group, and everyone else used Signup Genius to sign up for sides, supplies, or dessert. We had bubbles, water guns, and sidewalk chalk for the kids, and the adults all just enjoyed relaxing and chatting. New friendships were formed and old acquaintances got to touch base again for the first time in a long time.
For our fall event, we did chilis, soups and dessert and set up a table for kids to paint little pumpkins or get their faces painted.
The key is to keep things really simple and laid back!
Inviting People Over for Dinner
We LOVE hosting people for dinner, and we've tried to be more intentional about inviting neighbors over in the last year or so. Selfishly, inviting people over motivates me to get my house clean and in order, and it lets me enjoy my interests in cooking and entertaining.
But more importantly, I love making people feel special and feeding them a delicious meal. Although I always feel a little anxious before new friends come over, by the end of the evening, we've broken the ice, found common interests, and have started a relationship that has the potential to only get better from there. With neighbors specifically, building these kinds of relationships makes your neighborhood feel like a real community.
Sharing a meal together is a simple way to open the door to this kind of community.
What are your three must-have items for entertaining?
I love making pretty arrangements from affordable grocery store flower bundles. For around $12, I can make at least two larger arrangements and one smaller one for the guest bathroom. It's such an easy, inexpensive way to make your guests feel like they're enjoying a special night. Plus, I love having fresh flowers in my house to give me something pretty to look at when laundry and dishes are out of control! 😂
If our guests have little kids like us, I like to set up a small table just for them. It gives us a bit of adult space to actually eat and talk, and the kids love feeling like they have their own special set-up.
3. A tried-and-true recipe
Entertaining isn't the time to try a new, complicated dish. You have to have a go-to recipe that even picky eaters will like. My go-to meal, which I can make by heart and is loved by most, is Crunchy Parmesan Chicken from The Food Nanny, mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, and yeast rolls.
I have been blessed so much from the effort I've put into getting to know my neighbors. Some have become just acquaintances that I can chat with when I pass them on a neighborhood stroll, and others have become great friends (we call each other "freighbors").
I feel safer in my community because I know people are looking out for me, and I feel like I can extend a hand to those around me because I know what's going on in their lives. With each meal I deliver to a neighbor recovering from surgery or each morning spent watching a neighbor's child, I know I'm investing in relationships that are important to my family, and I'm teaching my children the importance of community.
From Sandi: I hope you've been encouraged by the simple things Dana has done to get to know her neighbors. I know I have been. Did you get any ideas from this interview? Tell me one thing in the comments that you're going to try!
If you liked this post, you might also like How One Family Works Together to Entertain Guests!