Ask Athena: Don’t Be a Stranger

These are the people in your neighborhood, and here’s how to get to know them (and why). 

THE SOCIAL NETWORK 

Q: I’ve lived in my neighborhood for a few years now and realize I hardly know anyone. I see posts about community events after they happen, it’s frustrating how poorly connected I am. What are some beginner-friendly ways to become more involved and better invested in what’s going on where I live? PS I hate politics!

A: The first place I would start is your local library branch, a great way to learn about your area’s history and the famous people and landmarks. Start at the circulation desk, and ask if there’s a community newsletter (and how to get on the list). The library might also have its own newsletter, which’ll keep you updated on its events and programming: street fairs, demonstrations, book clubs, special speakers and performances.

Do you have any passions such as reading, gardening, art, or woodworking? Ask your librarian if they can help you research where like-minded neighbors are connecting locally. You might also have some luck finding kindred spirits by googling an interest/activity + “group” + your neighborhood.

Think about grassroots volunteering! So much help is needed in a variety of areas including food distribution, wildlife rehab, park and trail upkeep, etc. Check with your local elementary school to see if they need adults to read for the children, or help maintain their libraries (or gardens!). Community Fridges and other mutual support efforts are also great ways to connect with can-do neighbors who work well with others.

Speaking of: a lot of communities have groups that meet regularly to talk about issues in the neighborhood. While Athena certainly supports civic action, be mindful too that local councils can be quite political (and even territorial). Give them a chance, but be prepared to walk away if the vibe’s not right.

Through this sort of active participation, you will meet your neighbors and have something to talk about. Watch out, the possibilities really are endless!

SAFETY IN NUMBERS 

Q: Recent break-ins have shaken our once-peaceful block, and many of us feel helpless, especially the seniors. We want to make our community safer! Can you give us some practical steps we can take to improve security and bring back a sense of safety and belonging? Most of us have known each other for years, but it’s been hard reconnecting after COVID.

A: Athena loves to dig into the practical. First, make sure you have a good way to communicate. It can a fb page, email list, or another digital group – whatever works for you. I’d also suggest meeting with the local Crime Prevention or Community Relations Officer from your local police district. In Philly, most departments regularly host “town hall” type meetings, you can easily find the information online or by calling your Police District’s office.

Not sure what district you’re in? Find out on openmaps.phila.gov; scroll down the different tabs to “Police Districts”, check it and locate your address on the map. They’ll have the scoop on common issues on your block, and will likely share some helpful crime prevention tips as well.

After the officer’s presentation, there’ll be time for community comments and questions. Do your homework beforehand, and come prepared with one or two concerns to discuss. Action steps, too: perhaps ask other attendees if there’s a group chat you can start, or a phone or text tree you can help coordinate, or any informal committees that could be formed. Remember to ask if the Police Department has any public cameras on or near your block.

Speaking of cameras, that could be an affordable and very impactful project for block safety. Make a list of who has a doorbell camera, who’s willing to get one, and who needs help buying or setting one up. There are good wide-angles ones that catch a fair amount of sidewalk activity, and are especially effective for car break-ins, porch pirating, and criminal trespassing.

With night vision and motion detection, doorbell cameras are set-it-and-forget-it strategy for catching and ID’ing perps. Other methods focus more on crime prevention: better locks on everyone’s doors and windows, brighter porch lights, trimmer landscaping, etc. Who can donate, who can volunteer their time to make sure every home on the block is secured as well as possible?

I’m describing a lot of coordination, which brings me to my last point: the best way to stay safe is to know your neighbors. Build community through having block parties or try a progressive potluck dinner, where one house hosts the appetizers, one house does the main course, and another does the desserts. The point is to spend time together, and bond.

Building a real sense of safety is hard because bad guys are out there, always. They win when we are alone and afraid. A sense of belonging helps people look out for each other, and feel comfortable asking for help when needed. Better than any town watch or alarm system, strong neighborhood ties provide collective protection and support peace of mind for all. Good luck.

AGREE? DISAGREE? Please leave your remarks below in the Comments.

Send your questions to AskAthena@nwlocalpaper.com

Read the last Ask Athena here.

About Athena 46 Articles
When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to askathena@nwlocalpaper.com.

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