Humans are community-minded creatures. We choose to live near each other, work together, play together, help each other out. People seek out places where there is support, activities, and a sense of being welcome.
During the last year or so, the shape of our lives has changed. People are staying inside more so it’s not easy to even say “hello” to a neighbor in passing. Large gatherings are not allowed, so some staple events of community life like sporting events and holiday celebrations have fallen by the wayside.
It’s easy in such situations to become isolated from even the people who literally live around us and difficult to find ways to connect, especially if you might be new to an area. Here are some tips to feel a part of your neighborhood, even if you can’t physically meet up with your neighbors.
It may seem basic, but the internet is your friend in situations like this. Most neighborhoods or communities — or even individual streets — will likely have some social media presence. Join a local group to connect with the people who live nearby. It might also help you put an occasional name to the face you’ve seen walking their dog. If you can’t find a group, create your own!
It should also be possible to find local interest groups that can still thrive with no physical interaction required such as book or crafting clubs that can meet on Zoom, local photography forums etc. Again, if you have an interest in something and can’t find a local online presence for it, start a group yourself.
Spread some Cheer
When it comes to holiday times, try starting a new tradition. Leave a small gift relevant to that holiday outside a neighbor’s door with instructions for them to do the same to someone else. Be sure to also include a sign or note to stick to your door showing that you’ve already participated. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Receiving any sort of thoughtful gift will give somebody a boost, and it could turn into a much-anticipated part of any holiday.
If you have children, simple hand-drawn cards or pictures to post through a neighbor’s door can be a connection that some people will really value. This doesn’t have to be restricted to a specific time of year, either. Reaching out to make a connection can be done at any time.
Going out for a walk around the neighborhood has become a part of everyday life for many people, my family included. To make things a little more interesting for the kids when they’re being forced to walk past the same old houses, people in our community have put various things in street-facing windows for children to spot. There have been teddy bears or soft toys, pictures of rainbows, and at Easter, children designed patterned Easter eggs and stuck those on the windows to make a fun trail through the neighborhood. This can help you feel linked to other people whether you’re inside or outside.
No meet-ups? No problem. Keep the spirit of fun alive in your community with drive-through events. As most families were home during the last winter holiday season, people went all-out decorating their houses in our community. It was great driving through a different area every night to see the lights in all their glory. I just read that communities in New Orleans, who had to bypass traditional Mardi Gras celebrations, decorated their homes like that city’s fabled “floats” for passers-by to enjoy (in a safe, socially-distant way).
Holidays like Halloween are also set up for this type of situation. You can drive through neighborhoods or help set up a creepy route in a larger area like a parking lot. Invite residents to create spooky scenes in their car trunks for a prize and find someone with a good set of speakers to blast out “The Monster Mash” as people drive past the displays. If somebody is already setting up events like this, respond to their requests for help by donating money or needed items or volunteering on the day.
Lower your Guard
In order to make connections, you have to be willing to connect. Small things such as saying “hello” to fellow walkers, giving a cashier the time of day, or starting a funny thread on a neighborhood message board will help reinforce your sense of belonging. When it’s time for life to recommence, you’ll be ready.