Neighbors help neighbors. 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 for the connections to vital resources that will improve their odds of succeeding.
There may be no better example of neighbor helping neighbor—volunteering—than the time-honored American tradition of barn-raising. From the earliest days of our country, neighbors would gather at a homestead and work together to build a barn, often in a single day. Neighbors lent a hand when they became aware of neighbors they could help. They took responsibility for one another. More than barns were built in the process. True bonds of community spirit were forged.
You might not think you’ve seen a good barn-raising lately, but they are happening around you all the time. The tools have changed, and what is built may not actually be a barn, but the spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in cities, towns, and rural communities everywhere. We need to tap into that irrepressible volunteer spirit to address some of the most entrenched challenges in America's most challenged communities. You can provide a renewed sense of hope and the means to build a better future for individuals and families based on connections forged through common goals, mutual respect, responsibility, and ownership. Provide the tools, and use people’s skills and talents to find collective solutions to create family-supportive communities, networks, and opportunities necessary to bring neighbors together.
The good news is that volunteering is not only already present in under-resourced communities, it is crucial to the lives of everyone in them. People may not be building barns, but they are practicing tried-and-true barn-raising principles that you can tap into and encourage. Some quick snapshots tell the story: 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, not recognized as volunteering—even by those who do it. The term we used for stepping in to take care of others in our community is Neighboring.
Mainstream volunteering, in which agencies swoop in to “rescue” residents, does not recognize Neighboring. It does not capitalize on the good deeds already being done in the community or use them to make lasting changes. And often members of vulnerable communities don’t respond well to those efforts. That is why it is imperative that organizations seeking to work in under-resourced 3 communities see residents not merely as recipients but as equal partners and viable agents of change. With this new understanding, organizations from grassroots to national groups can empower communities, engage residents, and build the capacity of residents to find creative solutions to local issues.
Points of Light Institute and HandsOn Network have embraced Neighboring as a strategy to strengthen families since 1996. Through Neighboring, natural neighbor-to-neighbor helping that strengthens children, families, and communities is encouraged and supported. This type of help does not replace the assistance provided by traditional volunteers. Instead, Neighboring underscores that help need not come from outside a community but can come from within.
The goal is to inspire, equip, and mobilize more nonprofit organizations to see their most challenged communities as places of promise—places where resident skills, talents, and desires are seen as wealth on which to capitalize in order to create sustained, lasting change.
Points of Light Institute and HandsOn Network