Getting to Know You

8 ways to connect with your neighbors

Story by Cindy Hudson

Sometimes it seems easier to keep in touch with people across the country than it is to have a conversation with your neighbor. And yet, being familiar with the people who live around you often brings lots of benefits. Neighbors can provide backup for childcare, bring emergency supplies when your family gets the flu, keep a watch out for suspicious activity, and more. You may even find a few that you just like to hang out with.

Here's a list of ideas – some simple, some more involved – for things you can do to build a community of familiar faces.

Welcoming new neighbors

Have some new neighbors on the street and want to say hello? Here are a few thoughtful ways to welcome them:

Share a treat: Sure, it sounds 1950s, but welcoming new neighbors with a simple batch of home-baked goods, such as cookies or muffins, is a wonderful gesture. (Include a list of ingredients in case of any food allergies.) If the new family has kids, enlist your own kids to help bake and deliver the sweet treats with you – a nice icebreaker for meeting the new kids on the block.

Share information: Print a welcome card listing your name, cell phone and email and a note that encourages the new neighbors to contact you if they need anything. Consider dropping off your neighborhood directory (but if you don’t have one, new neighbors are a good reason to start one). You could also collect a few take-out menus from local restaurants (and circle some of your favorite dishes) and compile a list of your favorite home repair contacts (plumbers, electricians, etc.) – perfect for people discovering the quirks of their new house.

Host a potluck.
Volunteer your yard or your driveway as the location for a neighborhood gathering. Create flyers and deliver them to homes or place them in a prominent area, such as light poles or mailboxes. Set a time, and ask neighbors to bring finger food to share and beverages for themselves. If you need card tables, paper plates, napkins and other goods, ask for volunteers to provide them.

Create a directory.
It's hard to get in touch with people when you don't have contact info, but you also don't want to seem pushy about asking for it. One easy way to get personal information is to bring a blank sheet of paper to a neighborhood event. Label it at the top as a "Neighborhood Directory," and then list what you'd like neighbors to share (names, address, phone, email, possibly even the availability of children to babysit). Provide an example with your own info.

Start a playgroup.
If there are several children of similar age in your area, suggest that parents form a playgroup. Choose a regular day and time for getting together, and rotate among homes for the gatherings. As a group you can decide whether to go on outings, organize games, or simply let kids play.

Join a book club.
If there's a book club already meeting in your area, ask if you can join. If not, start one of your own. Consider all the possibilities that may work, including women-only, men-only, couples, mother-daughter, parent-child, etc. If time permits, you may also want to be in more than one group.

Put up a Little Free Library.
Started in 2009 along a sidewalk in Wisconsin, Little Free Libraries can now be found in tens of thousands of locations in 70 countries. The premise is to "take a book and leave a book," and these small structures can be good spots for conversation as neighbors stop by. To find a location near you in Alaska, use the library search tool at littlefreelibrary.org.

Organize a community cleanup.
Keeping sidewalks clear of bushes and branches is not always easy for elderly or impaired residents. Get a work crew together to trim and prune, creating safe access for walkers of all types. You can also consider adopting a section of a nearby road and pick up trash a few times a year.

Bring in an expert.
Think about issues that may be important to many residents, then look for someone who may be willing to present on the topic. For example, a master gardener could talk about growing fruits and vegetables, a local energy company could talk about installing solar panels, or a local police officer could talk about ways to set up a Neighborhood Watch program.

Share the bounty.
If you’ve been growing lots of vegetables or flowers in your garden, consider sharing some of the bounty with neighbors. Have fun hand-delivering produce or a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers to doorsteps.