Sunday, July 20, 2008

How to Build Community For A Child

When Janet Swenson moved to a new city she chose a neighborhood near her work, one that was a mix of houses and apartments. Alex was ten and Zoe was seven when the moved. They had given up the comfort of extended family to accept a promotion for Janet. Now here they were in a strange city, knowing no one. That night Zoe crawled into bed with her mother. "This isn't like our old neighborhood, it's full of strangers," she said.

"Well, we're just frightened of what we don't know so let's begin learning about where we live," said her mother.

The next day was Sunday, and Janet baked a pie. She then took Alex and Zoe to the house next door, with one-third of the pie. "Hi, we're the Swensons and we just moved in next door," Janet said. The couple in the house, Crystal and Lori, welcomed the family and told them who lived where. Janet got their phone number ... "it's good for the kids to know people in case I'm not home," she said. "We're happy to have them call anytime," said Lori.

The next weekend Janet made a batch off cookies and they went over the house across the street where they had seen a young couple and their child. Soon, they were friends with John and Cheryl and their three-year-old Stacey. "Maybe you would want to babysit for us sometime," Cheryl said to Alex. They traded phone numbers and John said they would be watching out for the new kids in the neighborhood.

Janet continued to build community for her kids, introducing themselves to the Korean owners of the little grocery at the end of the block, going through the same one or two checkers lines at the market until the checkers knew the kids, meeting the mail carrier on a Saturday by leaving a note asking her to ring the bell. When she baked she shared with everyone, from the single real estate agent on the corner to the Jewish couple on their way to a Seder. Soon, neighbors were attending the kids' events and the family was surrounded by people they knew.

When Janet considered moving to a bigger place the kids protested -- "No way," said now 9-year-old Zoe. "I would miss Crystal and Lori and well ... everyone around here!"

Janet agreed. "We have a community here," she said. "I guess that's more important than a bigger house."

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