Hello, Everyone! Last week I was at a family reunion, so I did not get a chance to post, but I am glad to be back to work this week! Especially since this week is Be A Good Neighbor Week! For this week, I want to reflect on some of my experiences from the week and share why we call it "Be a Good Neighbor Week," rather than "Do Good for Neighbors Week."
One of my projects this week was helping on Shirley's roofing, where I spent two days mainly hauling rubbish and debris that had been tossed down. When I was working on that project, I was doing something neighborly. On my first day, I spent the day outside working, but on day two- I got to be a good neighbor, engaging with Shirley and hearing about her life and struggles. Making that connection is what being a good neighbor is all about: recognizing the dignity of the person you are interacting with while trying to help them with their burdens.
That's why Neighborlink's motto is "Practical neighbor to neighbor expressions of God's love" because more than just doing service projects to solve neighborhood code problems, we are trying to encourage something deeper. We, at Neighborlink, want to bring people into community again. Since the 1960s there have been significant changes to society, ultimately causing social connection to decline, meaning there are fewer instances of engaged neighborhoods and communities ( see https://www.heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/rebuilding-social-capital-through-community-institutions for a few examples, I will also go into this decline in more detail in further blog posts).
And when neighborhoods and communities are not engaged, every aspect of life starts to unravel. There is a reason people use the expression "they're a tight knit group" - because connection and relationships are literally weaving society together. By being a good neighbor, by making connections and loving others (i.e. willing the good of the other), the real needs of a neighbor are revealed and so is the power of the other neighbor to meet those needs.
When we choose to be good neighbors, we stop and listen to what the person cares about and it helps us understand why they have not been able to mow their lawn or save to re-roof their house. It also helps us honor the desires that the other person cannot bring to fruition.
For example, by talking with Shirley, she explained how she had a giant, overgrown bush that she wanted to remove (it blocked her view of her backyard from the window). We were there to re-roof her house, but this was something that she cared about, and so, my friend Gail and her grandpa took an extra 15 minutes and removed the bush for her, while I helped weeding out the lawn. The impact on the landscaping was immediate and satisfying, but the impact on Shirley and ourselves will be much more long lasting.
Myself and others who worked with Shirley saw how sweet she was and how she would have taken care of her house if she was able. But Shirley is 85 years old, lives alone, has health issues and her family cannot step in to help. What's more alarming, nearly 11.3 million American older adults live alone, and almost 50% of women 75 and older live alone (https://www.ioaging.org/aging-in-america).
These are facts and realities I never saw until I started working with Neighborlink as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I am learning how to be a good neighbor daily, and I am seeing the incredible need for each and every person to give of themselves to fill needs that no social program or government action will ever meet. I made a difference for Shirley. I helped make her difficult circumstances better, and now, when I can, I'm going to go check on her. Because that's what good neighbors do.
If I had started Be a Good Neighbor Week simply trying to do neighborly things, I would have focused on completing the project. Since I am learning to be a good neighbor, I found another person who needs my support and who I can learn from. Shirley knits hats for needy children, since as she puts it, "my legs don't work, but my hands sure do." Even those who are homebound are contributing, so what is my excuse as an able-bodied, young adult?
Go out. Be a good neighbor. It's worth it. It matters. You matter, and so does your neighbor.
- Bernadatte "Bernie"