Every day, they use their time and their gifts to strengthen families and communities.
Many, especially those living in under-resourced communities, work hard to deal with the challenges of communities where unemployment, violence, and drugs are taking their toll. In the face of these obstacles, community residents look to each other for the connections to vital resources that will improve their odds of succeeding.
The good news is that volunteering is already present in under-resourced communities; it is crucial to the lives of everyone in them.
A neighbor guides children across a busy intersection on the way to school.
A young friend makes meals for an elderly woman confined to a wheelchair.
A next-door neighbor takes care of a single mom’s small children while she attends night school.
Neighbors are helping neighbors in communities everywhere.
The service that takes place in low-income communities, however, is often informal, organic, and not recognized as volunteering—even by those who do it. The term we use for neighbors stepping in to take care of others in our communities is Neighboring.
Neighboring is an asset- and empowerment-based approach to community action that engages underserved and under-resourced community members to find innovative, sustainable solutions to address local challenges. Describing neighboring as asset-based acknowledges that all members of a community can offer something to improve the community.
They can share their talents, skills, knowledge, or resources. The resident-led approach primarily focuses on a specific geographic area (i.e., ZIP code, neighborhood, or street) in which the majority of the volunteers, activities, and organization come from within the community itself.
Neighboring is a place-based way of volunteering that builds on the talents and resources of local residents to strengthen families and elevate struggling communities into flourishing, vibrant places to live. It is about the connections among residents that support positive individual and community behavior based on mutual respect, responsibility, and ownership.
Neighboring is most successful in communities that lack access to the typical resources that promote self-sufficiency, such as food, clothing, jobs, and health care.
Neighboring projects may be initiated by outside organizations, but the ultimate goal of these projects is to have neighborhood residents take ownership of the projects and to support their neighborhoods. Here, the sponsoring organization’s primary role is as a catalyst: it empowers residents to lead their own projects with their own volunteers from their own community and, in doing so, to use their own talents.
This approach places the focus and organization of the initiative on the residents–putting residents in charge of projects because they know best what their neighborhoods need . This approach allows the agency to step back when a critical mass is achieved with neighboring and ensure sustainability of the effort.
Projects don’t have to be initiated by an outside organization, though. Neighbors can come together to make the changes they want to see in their neighborhood, whether it’s cleaner streets, safe places for children to play, or trying to make their neighborhoods safer.