For years (even before we had kids!) I had dreamed of living in a neighborhood where kids played outside together, neighbors got to know each other and became friends, and there was a real sense of community. Funny enough, my husband and I viewed one particular Wichita neighborhood that way starting when we were just dating in high school and had friends who lived there. They had all kinds of neighborhood amenities and the kids who had grown up living there all seemed to be close friends. When a house came up for sale in that neighborhood two summers ago with all the things we wanted, we jumped on it. We went to the open house, scheduled a showing for the next day, and put an offer on it without our families even knowing we were looking!
Shortly after closing, I had my girls at the playground and ran into another mom with kids who were similar ages. We started chatting and she said, ‘I wish there were more opportunities to meet neighbors! I feel like we don’t really know anyone!’ Wait, what? To be fair, the HOA had continued the sweet neighborhood traditions of annual Easter egg hunts and 4th of July parades (long after their own children were too old to enjoy them) and there are great common area amenities, but clearly that wasn’t enough.
That conversation got my wheels turning, and I decided I was going to help make this neighborhood the one I’d dreamed about.
Let me preface with this – I didn’t expect change overnight and I knew I would need help. I was already stretched thin with my own kids, running a small business, and having a husband that travels for work, but this was also so important to me. I was able to find a girlfriend in the neighborhood who was dreaming of the same thing and she and I started forming a team of other women who could help. Our first step was making a private Facebook page for neighbors to join and communicate with each other – People share neighborhood concerns, post about pick up sand volleyball games, ask for recommendations, and pass on items their kids have outgrown. It’s also the easiest way for us to post about neighborhood events. We did end up getting HOA approval, but we were also sure to clarify in the group description that the group is not affiliated with our neighborhood HOA (although the board members are part of the group!).
Once we had the group and everyone was adding neighbors near them that they knew, we had a way to share about upcoming neighborhood happenings and started planning. We started with a summer kickoff party last May on the last day of school with baby pools full of shaving cream and water beads, water gun fights, a big slip and slide, and popsicles. It was a huge hit and we had a great turnout! From there we started dreaming about and planning more fun events – an outdoor movie night with a projector and blow up screen on our tennis courts, an adult swim night at the pool, a mom and me craft afternoon at the clubhouse where we made alcohol art tile coasters, pizza and showing off costumes at the clubhouse before trick-or-treating on Halloween (huge win for parents since they don’t have to make dinner!,) and a women’s favorite things party in December!
This spring was hard without any in person events, so we adapted our annual Easter egg hunt to work with social distancing, took part in the area scavenger hunts, and had a couple fun food trucks (donuts and sno cones are always a hit!) come through the neighborhood.
In the works still – and dependent on what social distancing guidelines end up being for the rest of the year – are a doggy swim the day the pool closes, a progressive dinner throughout the neighborhood, bingo/bunko/wine nights for the ladies, craft beer and poker nights for the guys, a fun fall football afternoon with the games on, grilled food, and yard games, and a chili competition. The options are endless, and they don’t have to be anything that requires a lot of planning and/or money. Our HOA was thrilled we were taking this on and graciously offered to help cover each event, but even without that, so many of these are easily doable – especially if you’re spreading the cost between several people!
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking it seems completely overwhelming. Just start small! Strike up conversations at the playground or when you’re on a walk – Be a friendly face for another mom! Keep your garage open when you get home and see if any of your neighbors are outside and introduce yourself. Have your kids play in the front yard and meet other kids playing outside – Kids are the best ice breaker! Like I mentioned previously, you probably won’t see a change overnight. There have been events we planned that only a few neighbors showed up to – but they’ve also been neighbors I may not have otherwise met, so I still think they were worthwhile! I truly think you’ll be surprised to find how many other people are seeking community in their neighborhood and sometimes you just have to take the first step to create it!