Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

When’s the last time you had a heart-to-heart with your neighbor on a starry night? The eight-foot fence between your backyards playing mediator as you reasoned out your latest family- or work-related conundrum, the top half of your neighbor’s face giving sage and often animated counsel as your hair-brained schemes slowly dissolve into a manly grunt of acceptance?

OK. So we’re not all Tim “The Toolman” Taylor and his wise next-door neighbor Wilson. But odds are you’ve probably greeted, chatted up and even occasionally helped out the people who live near you.

It’s those kinds of neighborly interactions that we’re celebrating and encouraging this weekend. September 28 is National Good Neighbor Day. Started in 1978 by President Carter, it’s a day to recognize the importance of being a good neighbor, forging the friendships and mutually beneficial relationships that make your community better.

In honor of Good Neighbor Day and our hometown of Kansas City, we visited one of the most historic, eclectic and beloved communities in KC, the Columbus Park neighborhood, to see how people living there define a good neighbor.

Nestled near the Missouri River northeast of Kansas City’s downtown area, Columbus Park has been home to immigrants from several different countries over the past 100 years or so. The smell of authentic Italian, Vietnamese and south Asian cuisine fills the air. You can still see the legacy of KC’s swing era bosses.

The melting pot of cultures in Columbus Park has contributed to people’s sense of community in the area. “We must be helpful, inspiring, truthful and most of all kind and welcoming to everyone,” says Jo Marie Guastello, longtime resident of the neighborhood.

And despite the varied backgrounds of her and her neighbors, Jo Marie says they have always stuck together. “My neighbors are my chosen family. The neighborhood is a true community that cares about one another and is willing to stretch and help whenever and wherever they are needed,” she explains.

“They are extremely generous and constantly doing good things for people who can never repay them.”

These days, the famous food scene in Columbus Park is accompanied by a growing number of galleries and art studios. It’s brought in new and interesting groups of people. But residents say the underlying neighborhood spirit continues to welcome and include everyone.

Jo Marie’s neighbor, Abbey-Jo Evans, owns the Happy Gillis restaurant in the area. She says being a neighbor in Columbus Park means knowing you will find a friend at every turn. “I look forward to going on a walk in the evening and running into someone, drinking coffee on a neighbor’s porch or attending a neighborhood block party.

“Building relationships is essential to a healthy life. It makes the most sense to build them with the people who are in your day-to-day.”

Those friendships are present in her business as well. “We get to see the same faces every week. We have the privilege of both serving peopleand being their friends. This type of camaraderie is essential to my business being successful.”

Both Jo Marie and Abbey-Jo say the relationships they have with their neighbors give Columbus Park perhaps its most important aspect: Safety.

“Knowing our neighbors helps make the neighborhood safer for everyone,” says Jo Marie.

“People here want to know what’s going on. They are nosey,” Abbey-Jo adds, “but here being nosey means keeping a look out for what’s happening, making sure our neighborhood stays safe and clean, and continues to be a nice place to live.”

In Columbus Park and in communities around the world, there are countless ways to be a good neighbor. Giving books to Little Free Libraries spreads a love of reading in your neighborhood. The charitable group Good Neighbors organizes relief and improvement projects in some of the world’s poorest countries. HUD provides financial incentives for certain people who commit to living at least a year and a half in their homes with the Good Neighbor Next Door program.

So take your neighbor a cup of coffee. Offer to mow her lawn. Watch her cats when she’s out of town. Whether you’re an advice-dispensing eccentric like Wilson or a local business owner like Abbey-Jo, there’s no end to the things you can do – big or small – to help out and appreciate your neighbors. You’ll not only make their day. You’ll make your community stronger.

Because in the worlds of perhaps the greatest neighbor of all time, Mr. Rogers…

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

Originally published on 9/26/14 at http://mindmixer.com/2014/09/wont-neighbor/

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