When I was a child I lived in this little 1950’s era street just by Atlanta’s airport. It was me and my grandparents and my mother, before she got married. They had lived there basically forever, and they knew every single person on the street. These were still the old days of borrowing cups of sugar and standing outside all afternoon passing the time with the obnoxious yet lovable guy next door. I still remember those names of our neighbors, even though we moved when I was just 6. We still talk about those people, those ghosts from the past. I loved Courtney, my neighbor to the left, who was only there sometimes when she was staying with her mom. She was a few years older and, in my mind, the keeper of all knowledge about the world. Farrah lived to the right, and she was sort of a bully, but I heard later that she eventually grew up into a reasonably decent human. I hope they’re all doing well. Our contact has completely evaporated, even in these days of hyper-connectivity.
From that brick, ranch-style house near the airport we moved to another brick, ranch-style. Only this time we were deep in the woods in the further-flung western suburbs of Atlanta. That neighborly touch was no longer at our doorstep. We had to search further to find our community. And we did: there was church and boy scouts and karate. But there was something special about those genesis days of my youth when I knew all my neighbors.
These days, a single bachelor in my early thirties, I live in a studio apartment, alone, in a complex where I don’t know my neighbor’s names. The times: they have changed. Fortunately, I live in a great area of the city where many of my friends are very close by, so the feeling of community is alive and well, if not quite as immediate as the people who are flanked on the sides of my little space day in and day out.
At Gateway Center, we believe in neighborhoods. We believe in communities. We know that if we are going to function at our best and provide the best possible services and case management to people who come to us for help, then we cannot do it alone. We need to work with the greater community. We need volunteers, we need in-kind donations, and we need funders. Along with this, we need the key relationships with apartment complexes, health care providers, and other agencies that specialize in providing fantastic service in specific areas. Simply, we need each other so that the Gateway Center can thrive in it’s task to be the entry point for those in Atlanta who want to end their homelessness.
The folks over at Good have declared something of a holiday on April 27th: Neighborday. It’s a day to intentionally reach out in your community for some bit of good. With a few minutes of thought, I could probably generate a thousand ideas for this, if I just decided to not be lazy with my Saturday morning. Maybe I will finally gather up the really useable and needed clothes that can be donated to Gateway, or I can try my hand at making banana bread from scratch and wander through my building, knocking on doors, and delivering it to sleepy-eyed neighbors. Or, on second thought, perhaps it would be more charitable to just make the banana bread from a boxed recipe. There are people everywhere, and everyone needs a little love, and would probably appreciate the effort of making a connection. The one thing that I always try to say to groups and individuals when I speak about Gateway is this: It matters. Don’t let anyone tell you that your small act of service was irrelevant. That’s a lie. Your offering is important, it’s needed, and it makes a difference. So get out there on Saturday, meet a neighbor, and be a part of the community.