- Jack H. Bender
Connecting with Neighbors
All of us know the value of family, friends and neighbors. We develop friendships in many ways. Becoming good neighbors to each other may take a little more effort—intentional effort. In 2010 Good Samaritan Ministries established neighborhood connector groups in a number of areas in the core of Holland. Maybe you’ve heard of or even live within the Heights of Hope, 3-Sixty, Westcore or Washington School Neighbors (WSN) neighborhood. I met with Lisa Kasten the Director/Connector of WSN to listen to her stories of needs, assets and problem solving within WSN. Lisa became director of that area in 2017.
The WSN area includes about five-hundred households within boundaries of 8th to 13th Streets and Kollen Park to River Avenue. The Good Sam board that oversaw the creation of the neighborhood connecters kept the initiative going until it became stable. AmeriCorps personnel were the early hands and feet when projects required manpower outside of the neighborhood.
The City of Holland recognized the value of healthy neighborhoods and now matches neighborhood dollars up to $10,000. One goal each neighborhood has is to have a neighborhood “block connector” for each block who is dedicated to learning about assets, needs and helping people connect with each other. When Lisa started the block connector program in January of 2018, there were four block connectors for the twenty-seven blocks of WSN and now there are twelve.
Lisa assists with tenant/landlord issues, writing grants for home repairs and whatever a block or area decides to tackle along with publishing a quarterly newsletter. One of the main things that Lisa is tasked with, is to listen to the neighbors and help them find ways to make their neighborhood into their vision of living life in this community. This happens through forming relationships and building mutual trust for one another. Traffic safety is an example of what a neighborhood can accomplish. Drivers at rush hour were cutting through the neighborhood traveling well above the speed limit. Lisa coordinated with Holland Police to place a speed wagon on the street in question and, a few blocks away, an officer was assigned to enforce the speed limit. Speeding was greatly curtailed. Fire safety was another concern. Fire fighters noted that people were incurring house fire related injuries. Smoke detectors were provided to homes which had none, and an education initiative followed including exit strategies, how to test a door that may have a fire on the other side, and how to read the capability of a fire extinguisher.
Relationships can be strengthened through participating in neighborhood events. WSN hosts six to eight events each year designed to foster relationships, such as ice cream socials, scavenger hunts, block parties and neighborhood cleanups. WSN operates twenty-six community garden plots where diverse people meet and become closer through a shared interest.
Hospitality and inclusivity are essential elements of a neighborhood’s set of values. Lisa noted that people coming from outside the WSN area to attend one of the six churches in WSN “are our neighbors.”
The Washington School Neighborhood Mission Statement: To equip and empower residents to participate in the development of their neighborhood life by contributing their individual assets and diverse perspectives in order to enrich the entire community.
WSN’s mission/philosophy is ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) where the gifts of neighbors are identified so that they can be empowered to contribute to community life. John McKnight and Peter Block’s book The Abundant Community is an easy read to familiarize yourself with ABCD.