This morning as my kids and I started off on a walk, I noticed our new neighbors hadn’t brought their garbage and recycling to the curb. Overflowing after their move, the cans were heavy and gross. But with my kids’ help, we rolled them out. They are new and likely didn’t know today was garbage day. They will come home, see the now empty cans on the curb, and feel welcomed to a neighborhood where people do things for each other. Where neighbors means more than just “the people who live adjacent.”
Today is National Night Out. Founded in August of 1984 by a community watch volunteer in Pennsylvania, the celebration has grown to include over 38 million people in 16 thousand communities (natw.org). Despite the success, research continues to show that too many people don’t interact with their neighbors. A 2010 Pew Research Center survey found 30% of people don’t know their neighbors’ names. A 2015 City Observatory report showed a mere 20% of people actually spend time with their neighbors. As someone who grew up in a neighborhood where everybody knew everybody and my closest friends lived within blocks, this makes me so sad.
The relationships I’ve fostered with my current and past neighbors have enriched my life, and quite often, saved my backside. Here, drawn from real examples in mine and my neighbors’ lives, in no particular order, are ten reasons to befriend (befriend, not just introduce) your nearest neighbors:
- They will watch your kids. My last next door neighbor literally ran a daycare. My current next door neighbor and I swap child care the way some neighbors swap hellos. And usually via text, “The kids are playing in your yard. Do you mind if I run to the store?” Or, “Your kids are in my house. Should I feed them?” The examples could continue all day and we’ve only just moved in a year ago.
- They will rescue you. Should you, say, happen to lock your keys in your van a town over, your neighbor will go to your house, get your spare keys, and drive them out to you.
- They will give you vanilla. Because you use vanilla so rarely, you never remember to buy it at the store. Your neighbor might have some. Could you go to the store? Sure. But if you have a sleeping newborn, you want to meet your neighbor in the driveway between your houses for a tablespoonful and a quick chat.
- They will give you vegetables out of their gardens when they have too much.
- They will help you search the neighborhood in the pouring rain when your dogs slip the fence the UPS guy left open again. They will be just as happy as you are when the pooches are found safe, though unreasonably muddy.
- They will celebrate with you when you announce your pregnancy. They will offer to come hold the little bundle when you need a nap. And they will actually do it.
- They will invite you to their rockin’ parties.
- They will teach your child to ride her bike without training wheels because she won’t listen to her parents, but she will listen to the more patient and adoring adult next door.
- They will get your mail if you’re out of town.
- They will loan you coolers when you have a large party.
- They will loan you a sander when you’re making your own dining room table in your garage.
- They will loan you their grill when you run out of propane.
- They will loan you whatever you might need that they have, apparently. Quite handy.
- They will help you lift heavy things on short notice, because sometimes it takes more than two adults to bring the couch up a flight of 14 stairs.
- They will cause your list of ten to overflow with gratitude and kindness at the memories that could go on and on.
- They will be your friends. Full stop.
In Mankato, most of our community events happen on August 28th this year, because many years ago the city decided to wait until the college students came back to town, to make sure they were welcome and included, too. A handful of neighborhoods do have events in Mankato tonight, however, so make a point to connect and make friends. Plan ahead and follow the Night to Unite event on Facebook for August 28th here. If you’re reading this from somewhere other than Mankato, find out where your neighbors are celebrating and get out there! If you can’t, if you’re truly busy or truly antisocial (it’s okay, we still love you), then remember that even the smallest gesture, as little as a wave and a smile, is enough to make them want to wheel your stinky garbage to the curb when you forget.