Many communities across the United States will be celebrating “National Night Out” (NNO) on August 4, 2015. This intentional community-building event’s purpose is to build neighborhood camaraderie. NNO has been an annual event across the nation for 32 years. It is held on the first Tuesday of August (except for TX and FL, who hold it on the first Tuesday of October because of the heat of August), and offers an opportunity for neighbors to interact in a positive, community-building way. NNO events vary greatly and can be adjusted according to what a community needs and/or can make happen with the resources that they have.
Orthodox Christians, called to be the body of Christ to our world, should be among those participating in community events like this. We function as a community within our parish; helping each other, caring for each other, and loving each other. We must also function as community members in our neighborhoods, where the needs for help, love and care are even greater than they are at church! It is fitting that the Body of Christ should reach out to those around her, and not just keep to herself; it is to this which we are called by the Lord himself when he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But building community in our neighborhood takes more than just one evening’s community cookout or social gathering, although an event like NNO is a good place to start! Building community requires frequent interactions, even self-sacrifice at times, for the sake of being the hands and feet of Christ. St. John of Kronstadt admonishes us to “…avail yourself of every opportunity and occasion to show holy and sincere love.” In order to avail ourselves in such a manner, we must know our neighbors well enough to know what the occasions/opportunities are wherein they need that holy and sincere love. If we have not spent time getting to know our neighbors, we will not know when they have needs that we can meet, nor how to best help them.
So, how can we build community in our neighborhood? Here are a few suggestions; but of course every neighborhood has its own unique needs and flavor, so yours will need its own special set of ideas!
- Welcome new neighbors as they move in, or visit soon after they do. Taking a small gift of food, flowers, etc., is optional, but is a kind gesture. Be sure to welcome them, introduce yourself, tell them where you live, and offer to help in any way that is needed.
- Create a “welcome to the neighborhood” directory specific to where you live that includes local restaurants, grocery stores, etc., that could take a newcomer a long time to discover on their own. This makes a great gift and is an excuse to go introduce yourself to neighbors who are just moving into the community.
- Gather your neighbors together by hosting a summertime neighborhood cookout. This could happen in your yard, in the street (if you gain permission to close part of the street), or on porches in the neighborhood. Everyone who attends brings/contributes something, and you all enjoy it together. During the event, play some games. See this link for suggestions (including “people bingo”) for different age levels: http://www.children-first.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/games-for-neighborhoods-2014.pdf
- Organize a community cleanup. Invite all the neighbors to gather on a Saturday morning to enjoy coffee and donuts or fruit, and then work together to pick up trash and do anything else that needs to be done in the neighborhood to clean it up.
- Organize a neighborhood yard sale, inviting everyone to participate. On the day of the sale, be sure to shop at your neighbors’ yard sales, chatting with each neighbor as you are able.
- Plan a last-night-of-summer (or first-day-of-school) celebration, a first-day-of-(season of the year) party, a Christmas gathering, a beat-the-winter-blues s’mores-and-hot-chocolate-in-the-backyard social, a founding-of-our-neighborhood “birthday” party, etc., with food and activities related to the theme.
- Teach your children how to build community. Need ideas? Check out this article: http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/12384540/list/6-tips-for-teaching-your-kids-to-be-good-neighbors
There are many, many ways to build community. This list is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to be a beginning place for you as you continue to reach out to your neighbors. St. Dorotheos of Gaza has encouraged us with these words: “The more one is united to his neighbor the more he is united to God.” Let us reach out even more to our neighbors, and in so doing, we will become closer to God!
The following links offer additional information on National Night Out and a variety of community-building ideas:
Learn more about National Night Out at the NNO website: https://natw.org/about
This pdf offers age-level-appropriate ideas for National Night Out which would also work for any sort of neighborhood/block party or gathering: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@mpd/documents/webcontent/convert_281908.pdf
Find a host of backyard games for neighborhood interaction here: http://www.listotic.com/32-best-diy-backyard-games/
Find a long list of simple, basic suggestions for positive ways to interact with your neighbors here: http://mommygoesgreen.com/2013/07/40-simple-ways-to-build-community-in-your-neighborhood/
This neighborhood doesn’t limit their interactions to National Night Out, but they plan events throughout the year and invite each other. Here’s a list of ideas of what they have done together: http://www.peartreegreetings.com/blog/2011/08/national-night-out-meet-your-neighbors/
Find a host of summer party ideas (from games to food to decorating) to use with your neighbors, whether or not you participate in this year’s National Night Out, here: https://www.pinterest.com/Snappening/summer-party-ideas/
Go beyond one night of neighborliness, and grow your neighborhood into a community using these great suggestions: http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/25-more-ways-to-make-your-neighborhood-a-community
Read this article for more ideas on growing community in your neighborhood: http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/12798308/list/15-ways-to-make-your-neighborhood-better