It was 1981 and my husband and I bought our first house. $46,000 for a Colonial Revival Victorian on a street that had many of these oversized white elephants that no one wanted…. Except for young families with lots of kids and plenty of elbow grease. This is where we raised our four wonderful daughters.
It was a mixed bag of ethnic groups, so diversity was in our vocabulary way before it became a catchword with politicians and school boards. There were 47 houses on this one inner city street in a town that used to thrive on manufacturing, but now was pretty depressed. I quickly realized that the family on one end of the street didn’t even know who lived on the other end. So after a short while I was determined to find out why.
For the most part it was due to the fear of the unknown. I realized that people had lived there for years without even talking to each other! How strange this was to me. I grew up in a neighborhood in the 50’s where everyone knew each other and you were not afraid to go up to anyone’s house to ask to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. So I decided to change this.
I sent a letter inviting everyone on the street to a meeting. We could start a Neighborhood Association! I found a meeting place in an elderly residential home that shared the end of the street with us and they offered a room in their basement for a meeting. Woo hoo! This was going to be great! What happened that night wasn’t what I expected.
Everyone showed up for the meeting but it turned out to be a grudge match! This one wanted to kill that one for something that he couldn’t remember had happened ten years ago, others wanted to report someone to the police… it was a freak show! But after a short while, and a little bit of letting them all vent their frustrations, we all decided that it would be in the best interest of all of us if we met once a month to work together for the good of the street and our children. So began the Wilcox Avenue Neighborhood Association (WANA). We would meet once a month.The first thing we did was to start a Block Watch. We had some rental properties at the base of the avenue that were owned by absentee landlords. But a lot of the people who lived in them had young children just like we did. So they were always invited to the meetings and became part of the group. Many of us entered a program where we went through background checks with the police so we could display a symbol of a hand in our windows so that if ever a child felt threatened or needed to feel safe they could go to that house without fear. In other words, we became the biggest “family” you could ever imagine!
There were probably a million kids on that street. Well, maybe not a million, but you get the drift. And they all grew up together. Black, white, Hispanic, polka dot, skin color didn’t matter. They all played together, babysat each others younger siblings, built forts, held lemonade stands, had car washes and they all learned how to keep the street clean by helping out once a year on our Annual Street Cleanup! It became such a big family that we started block parties and on a few occasions had “blizzard parties” and everyone was invited. Of course there were the occasional spats between the kids, but they always managed to work things out in the end and to this day my girls talk about how great it was to grow up in that true NEIGHBORhood.
So I guess I’m just writing this blog to encourage all of you to get involved with your neighbors. I was working a full time job, renovating a house and raising three daughters at the time I started that association. Yes, it was a little tiring, and I held the presidency of WANA for six years. And even though I moved off of the street 12 years ago, the association still works to keep that neighborhood strong because it doesn’t take a village… but it is great to know that your neighbor will look out for your kid as well as you would look out for theirs.