Make a Difference in your Neighborhood

As a newcomer, the easiest way to feel settled in a new city is to become part of the community.  I moved to Columbia about six years ago, and for me that meant volunteering, making friends and meeting my neighbors.  The latter wasn’t so easy.

My husband and I had never been homeowners before moving here, and weren’t exactly sure how to introduce ourselves around the street.  Nor were we positive we wanted to chat up a bunch of strangers.  After the initial flurry of lemon bars and neighborhood kids stopped arriving, we continued the occasional nod to people at the mailbox but went no further.  It told myself it was winter, I did not have a dog to walk, gardening was out of the question … whatever excuse came to mind.

Then I had a nightmare that our house burned down and none of our neighbors called for help since they didn’t like us.  So, the next day I baked up 9 dozen sugar cookies, dragged my husband up and down our snowy street, and implemented a reverse meet-and-greet with my neighbors.  That turned into a lot more conversations in the driveway throughout the next year, which led to glasses of wine on front porches, evening “Desperate Housewives” ladies gatherings and occasional dinner parties.  We’ve even planned a couple of block parties.  I feel like my neighborhood is special, and I’m truly now “at home”.

I think a lot of neighborhoods are like this in Columbia, and even more of them have potential.  To develop that potential, the Office of Neighborhood Services is hosting the 2013 Neighborhood Leadership Program (NLP).  This four-session series will expand your personal leadership skills to help strengthen our city’s neighborhoods.  You will also learn about Columbia city government and hear a variety of local speakers including elected officials, city staff and neighborhood leaders.

I am grateful that I went through this program a couple of years ago.   Some of the highlights for me included meeting other community focused people, learning how to plan a successful (and legal!) neighborhood block party, and being invited to a Columbia Police evening ride-along.  I wasn’t entirely certain that the big “VISITOR” sticker they slapped on my coat would keep the bad guys from shooting me, but it was a fascinating look at how vandalism and crime effect our neighborhoods.

The deadline to apply for NLP is January 18 and space is limited to 25 participants.  Sessions will be held at the Walton Building (300 S. Providence RD) January 28, February 25, and  March 11 from 6-8:30pm.  A fourth session on March 16 will include a field trip to several successful local neighborhoods.  I wonder if mine will be on the list??

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