Guest Post By Irene Stewart, Age Friendly Seattle, seattle.gov/agefriendly
Saturday is Neighbor Day—a day when you are encouraged to reach out to neighbors, make new friends, and say “thanks” to neighbors you appreciate. What better day to think about how you might reach out to neighbors young and old, and work toward becoming an age-friendly block.
Researchers tell us there are two things that help people live not just better but longer—social participation and physical activity. Anything you can do to connect with older adults on your block makes a big difference. Reaching out to young parents is also often appreciated. Too many people feel socially isolated, even with neighbors close by.
Here are some tips for helping your neighbors, plus some resources to share with them:
- Don’t know your neighbor? It’s never too late to say something like, “Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy seeing you when I pass by!” or “Thank you for always remembering that it’s Recycle Day!”
- Are your sidewalks, walking paths, curb cuts, and drains clear? If you see plants growing out over a sidewalk, offer to trim them back enough for strollers and wheelchairs to get by. If fall leaves have clogged a street drain, use a garden rake to clear them so a pool doesn’t form. If you’re unsure who to contact, you can use the City of Seattle’s Find It, Fix It app or call 206-684-CITY to report problems on public property.
- Are there places for people to sit? A bench or a few chairs on each block could make a big difference for someone who has trouble walking a long distance—typically the very young and very old, but also many others.
- Do you have “stuff” to give away? Things that you no longer need but are still in good condition can make a difference for others, especially for people who live on a modest income. There are lots of ways to give to your neighbors, including the Buy Nothing project. At last count, Seattle had more than 60 neighborhood-based Buy Nothing Yard sales are another way to meet people—schedule one and let your neighbors know so they can schedule the same day.
- Want free street trees? The City of Seattle’s Trees for Neighborhoods program is just the ticket—you get free trees that are appropriate for your block (the right size for the space). And if you reach out to neighbors who aren’t outside very often, you may find an easy way to help them improve their property and give them a reason to come outside (to watch you plant and to enjoy shade in the summer).
- Do you have a Block Watch group? If not, it’s easy to start one. SPD has community crime prevention coordinators who can come talk. Pick a date and a place that’s convenient for everyone, including anyone with limited mobility—even someone’s front porch, yard, or driveway—and invite neighbors to come talk about neighborhood safety. Ask everyone to bring food to share, and you’ve got a party!
- Worried about your neighbor? Sometimes we see that neighbors need help, but we don’t know who to call. Here are some excellent free resources: Community Living Connections answers questions about aging and disability issues; King County 211 provides general community resource information; and SPD can conduct a welfare check if a neighbor doesn’t answer the phone or respond to your knock at the door (206-625-5011 non-emergency line).
- What about emergencies? We all know to call 911 in case of emergency, and that’s important. In addition, you and your neighbors can sign up for Smart911 and AlertSeattle, which provide information to people who respond to emergencies—police, fire, emergency medical services, and disaster responders—and provide participants with emergency alerts.
- Need more ways to reach out? In addition to Neighbor Day (typically the Saturday before Valentine’s Day), Seattle celebrates Night Out on the first Tuesday in August. The Seattle Police Department makes it easy for you to send invitations to a block potluck. If you don’t live on an arterial, you can even register to close your street for the evening.
Irene Stewart is project manager of Age Friendly Seattle, an initiative to help make Seattle a great place to grow up and grow old. For more information, visit www.seattle.gov/agefriendly.