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How to Build Community
It’s easier than you think with these ideas
By Cecily Hastings
Browsing in a gift shop recently, I came across a lovely poster with the headline, “How to Build Community.” Given that building our community has been my mission for almost 30 years, I was naturally attracted to the message. The poster listed dozens of suggestions. Here they are, with some thoughts along the way. And I’d love to hear your ideas—email me and we’ll publish them in an upcoming edition.
Turn off your TV: I gave up watching local news two decades ago, preferring to read and write about local news, watch council meetings, and get involved in local activities and projects.
Leave your house: It’s easy to find solace in your own nest. But connecting with others is a vital part of our human condition.
Know your neighbors: Neighborhood Watch programs started a couple decades ago to help improve safety, security and communications. Knowing who lives around us should be everyone’s goal.
Sit on your front porch: A simple activity that provides endless opportunities to better know your neighbors and understand your surroundings. Make sure your porch is clean and inviting for visitors who might stop by.
Plant flowers: Even a few colorful touches will uplift your mood and brighten the day for people walking by.
Look up when walking: With smartphones dominating our lives, this one act might save your life!
Use your library: Libraries are far more than depositories for books. They are the center of neighborhood activities and programs for learning.
Play together: Good advice for adults too. I’m not as playful as I’d like, so this will be my own challenge.
Buy from local merchants: Those who advertise with Inside Sacramento offer the best in local products. In a world of Amazon and Google, always try to buy from merchants you know. The largest retail and tech companies in the world suck retail dollars from our neighborhoods and give nothing back.
Share what you have: We’ve never had more than three children in our home. But bigger families always manage to make do with less. I value the lessons kids learn from sharing.
Help a lost dog: A friend who loves dogs told me to always carry a bag in the car with a leash and some treats. This can help you catch that stray dog you might encounter.
Take children to the park: Even if you don’t have kids or grandkids, find someone else’s to join you and savor the joy of children at play.
Garden together: Our nonprofit Friends of East Sacramento manages hundreds of volunteer gardeners each season. We have found group volunteer workdays are some of the most productive times in the garden. People learn from each other.
Support neighborhood schools: Schools everywhere—especially in tougher neighborhoods—can use all the help they can get. Always say “yes” to kids raising money for schools.
Fix it even if you didn’t break it: My husband can fix many things. There was a time when he could fix anything. And he cheerfully did when anyone approached him for help.
Have potlucks: Whenever I invite folks for dinner, they always ask what to bring. Take them up on it. You can enjoy meals with guests more often.
Honor elders: My husband is 90, and tells me with age he has often felt ignored or invisible. Always reach out to greet and help the elderly and infirm in your life.
Pick up litter: This is easy if you are prepared. I have a friend who loves to clean up public spaces. Gloves and plastic bags in his car mean he’s always prepared.
Read stories aloud: We did this with our kids. But now my husband and I read a spiritual message every morning. It sparks wonderful conversations.
Dance in the park: Or do yoga. Or take a nap on a towel. Or layout and just enjoy the weather.
Talk to the mail carrier: My son-in-law is a postal carrier. He says many people hardly make eye contact with him on his daily route.
Listen for the birds: Our cool mornings—even in the hot summer—are perfect for keeping our bedroom windows open. The best time is before anyone else is up.
Put up a swing: I’m planning a new home design and landscape. I’ll work in a place for this relaxing activity.
Help carry something heavy: Two sets of hands are better than one. Most injuries occur when carrying or lifting something.
Barter for your goods: Bartering is as old as humanity, and relies on positive relationships rather than anonymous purchasing. Not everyone appreciates it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask nicely.
Start a tradition: It can be anything you enjoy and want to repeat with others. Monthly dinners. Weekly walks. Your favorite food at special times. Get creative and make plans.
Ask a question: I love to “interview” people. It helps break the ice, especially with shy folks. People love to talk about themselves or things they know.
Hire young people for jobs: I started working as a babysitter when I was 12. Every job I had until after college helped prepare me for my adult and professional life. Look around and find a youngster who can assist with a task or small job.
Carry cash: You never know when it might come in handy to satisfy a generous impulse!
Organize a block party: When a young neighbor family moved next door 20 years ago, they started BBQ block parties around their pool. When they moved away, we took over this job for a decade. Our neighbors knew and appreciated each other best during those years.
Make extra and share: Items you cook or make are perfect for sharing, as are fresh fruits and veggies from the garden or farmers market.
Ask for help when you need it: My husband Jim struggles with this the most! I tell him it’s a way for others to feel useful and helpful—it’s a blessing to others.
Open your shades: Energy conservation is good, but so is a neighborhood filled with life and activities inside every home.
Sing together: My favorite part of going to church each week is singing while surrounded by other congregants. It’s the only time I sing anymore and it always feels cathartic. Christmas concerts are a great place to sing.
Share your skills: With a long publishing and nonprofit career behind me, I often get asked for advice. I don’t have time for every request. But when I help, I never regret the time it took. What skill could you share?
Take back the night: Every August the nation celebrates National Night Out. Make sure you do something outside with neighbors at least once a year.
Turn up the music: But not so loud that your neighbors can hear something they’d rather not!
Support your local churches: Sadly, church attendance has been dropping. But I know how much churches strengthen the fabric of our communities. They care for our needs from birth to death and every stage in between.
Listen before you react to anger: We’ve all known folks who do this and how hurtful it can be. When I suspect somebody might respond with anger, I say “I’ve got something to say that might upset you. Can you hear me through and then we can calmly discuss it?”
Mediate a conflict: I’ve tried this a few times and it worked out well. A neutral outsider can bring perspective.
Seek to understand: I recently heard this is much easier if you strive for true understanding—rather than agreement—as a goal.
Learn from new and uncomfortable angles: Getting outside of our ingrained thinking is tough, especially as we age. Working on the development of our new website this year was a huge challenge for me mentally. It was like being forced to learn Norwegian at age 63!
Do something nice and unexpected: My husband walked by the ice cream counter at Rite Aid the other day and saw a grandma and her 11 grandchildren. She was trying to figure out if she could afford one cone for each child. When she came up short, Jim heard her disappointment, stepped in and handed the clerk a $20 bill. Grandma and the kids were thrilled. Jim said he had the best day as a result!
Our motto at Inside is simple: Every day is a good day to make your neighborhood a better place. So please, let’s all get at it!
Cecily Hastings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.