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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Connecting with Neighbors through COVID

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Julie Barker, Linda Rodekohr, Kim Reichert

The ladies of 4600 Cedar Oaks Lane in Bellaire enjoying a social distancing happy hour. Pictured are (from left) Julie Barker, Linda Rodekohr and Kim Reichert. 

Along with cooler temperatures, fall typically brings events for neighbors to connect with one another. One such event is National Night Out, the annual community-police awareness-raising event traditionally celebrated the first Tuesday in October in Texas. Like many other events, the 2020 National Night Out couldn’t take place as usual due to COVID-19. But even without National Night Out get-togethers, there are many ways to bond with neighbors throughout the year – even during the pandemic. 

Here, some Buzz-area neighbors share some of their tips for connecting with other families on their block, plus some favorite traditions:

Just down the street from Condit Elementary, the neighbors on the 500 block of S. Third St. in Bellaire have had a special bond for years. Mary Ann Reed and Carol Beittenmiller are two of the reasons why. Carol shared, “Mary Ann Reed started [a neighborhood] directory before we moved to the street in ’95 and she was the main coordinator of block parties at that time. I took that over from her along the way, but Mary Ann and I have worked together through the years to keep our neighbors connected and informed. We’re lucky to have some younger families who are stepping up to take this over now - yay!”

The dynamic duo said that way back when, they helped organize two block parties a year, usually. They had their kids deliver hard copies of street directories to neighbors. “Now the directory is a Word doc,” said Carol, “and can be emailed to everyone easily. Being able to email has been great to share information and keep everyone connected. It’s great to still have an updated directory that we share with newcomers when they move in.”

unicorn sightings

The kids on S. Third Street in Bellaire reported spreading cheer unicorn sightings during the pandemic. Adam and Caroline Funk with son, Niko, had fun watching a unicorn (Scott Ross) dance down the Street. Scott’s son, Leo watches from the stroller while his little brother, Max, sleeps in his baby carrier above. (Mom Yael took a quick moment to snap a photo of their dad as a unicorn!)

Carol explained that when her kids were younger, there would often be impromptu driveway parties and the neighbors would all visit and no one had to take on the role of hosting. Carol added, “As our kids have moved out, these have evolved into much less frequent occasions of ‘Join us for wine on the driveway’ on pretty evenings. Other neighbors have taken over Halloween evening block parties over the last few years too and we’ve blocked the street to make it safer for the kids.”

Over the past six months, neighbors on S. Third St. have had mini block parties - with masks on and social distancing in place. There have been some special treats like visits from snow cone and ice cream trucks, birthday celebrations and a few other surprises. 

Yael Karakowsky Ross and Scott Ross, one of the families with young children, have contributed to the S. Third St. fun. “Scott bought a unicorn blow-up costume and has been walking the streets waving at kids and adults to make them smile. Maybe we can encourage more people to do this and make their neighbors smile!”

Ryan Drone, Maggie Drone, and Conner Drone

The Drone kids – Ryan, Maggie and Conner - love living in Ashford Forest and enjoy all the fun family activities throughout the year. 

Bob Harry and Kate Drone are two of the residents that contribute to the special neighborhood bond in the community of Ashford Forest in Memorial. Tools that have been helpful for keeping neighbors connected include a monthly newsletter listing upcoming events and welcoming new neighbors. Bob said that in addition to a National Night Out get-together, other events include a Halloween event, a block party and a progressive dinner. Bob added, “We try to promote neighbors getting to know each other and the social events help with that. Kids play in the street while parents visit, over a glass of wine in many cases!”

“What I would say about our neighborhood is it truly is a family, and one that continues to get closer and stronger,” Kate added. “I know that the definition of a neighbor is different here, especially post Harvey.” Some neighborhood gathering ideas that Kate shared included a snow day, trunk and treat and hayrides, Easter egg hunts, mom happy hours, poker nights, Oktoberfest, book club, Bunco and even a front-yard bar "Adult Lemonade Stand." 

assembling hygiene kits

The kids of 4200 Rice Boulevard assembling hygiene kits and having some fun while they work together. Pictured are (back row, from left) Max Schutt, Amy Schutt, Grace Enerson, Lisa Rowland, Mary Enerson, Katherine Keller, Melissa Cherry, Caroline Cherry, Holli Clayton; (front row, from left) Brooks Keller, Duke Keller, Clark Schutt, Olivia Jones.

Brenda Waun Little was inspired to connect with her neighbors on the 4200 block of Rice Blvd. in West University once the quarantine started. 

Brenda remarked, “I love our neighbors. The pandemic has allowed for connection on our block. Our organized curbside visits on Friday nights have helped us all immensely. Some nights, we will sit out until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. The 4200 block of Rice is truly blessed.” 

Another Rice Blvd. neighbor, Katherine Keller, recently volunteered at Lord of the Streets, an organization that outreaches to the homeless. Katherine shared, “I brought home a hygiene-kit assembly project for my children to help with but then realized we needed some additional help, so I recruited my sweet neighbors.” 

Impromptu Dinner

A 2018 impromptu outside dinner in front of Vicky and Mark Koblenz’s house on Mimosa. Various neighbors, including Shanthi Saran and her husband Kumar, joined in the festivities. 

These neighbors are thankful that their families have gotten to know each other and everyday opportunities to interact and say hello are now just happening naturally. 

Shanthi Saran shared ways the acts of kindness from just one person can help give the street a heartbeat to help everyone stay connected. Shanthi said, “My family has lived on the 4500 block of Mimosa Dr. in Bellaire since 1999. My neighbor Vicky Koblenz is one of those people who loves people and always says hello to everyone she sees. She can be called the matriarch of Mimosa Dr. The first few weeks of COVID, Vicky baked 20 breads and distributed to neighbors. Her kindness and compassion brought the whole street together.”

Easter Egg Hunters

The Mimosa Street Easter Egg Smackdown was born in the spring of 2012. Here are the 2013 egg hunters ready to go.  

The 4500 and 4600 blocks of Mimosa are on a cul-de-sac, which attracts less traffic, helping the kids and the adults (who sometimes like to act like kids) build great friendships over the years. The street has also been known for its shenanigans. When Easter was quarantined due to COVID this year and the annual confetti Easter Egg hunt was canceled, Patti Daniels and her family got creative. “We snuck over and put a couple dozen confetti eggs on different neighbors’ porches. Then we called them and asked them to have their own confetti egg smash-off but they had to film it and send it to us. It was hilarious and lifted our spirits during a holiday that felt very different.” 

Over the years, Bellaire’s 4600 block of Cedar Oaks Lane had gotten to know each other through block parties, National Night Out gatherings and even a ladies’ book club. But they didn’t see each other often between those events.

Be the Mr. Rogers of Your Neighborhood

Seen in Bellaire: The sign says it all: “Be the Mr. Rogers of Your Neighborhood.” (Yes, El Arroyo makes yard signs!)

Kim Reichert shared, “We started our front-yard happy hours back in March when everything shut down and we needed to stay six feet apart. The weather was great and it was easy to sit apart outside. Sometimes it’s just three or so of us, but we’ve had as many as 10 ladies spaced out in the yard. We skipped the hottest summer months, but the weather is nice again now, so we’re back out front. We think it’s important for the neighbors on the street to know each other.”

How well do you know your neighbors? Maybe you’re just the Mr. Rogers your neighborhood needs. 

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