Luminaries light up Walnut Ridge every holiday season. (Photos by Lauren Law)

Luminaries light up Walnut Ridge every holiday season. (Photos by Lauren Law)

Look around any neighborhood and most likely you’ll see at least 4-to-7-foot privacy fences on the sides and the back of the houses. We seem to wall ourselves off.

That can’t be said of Joe Weaver’s house near Jesuit College Prep. He intentionally keeps an open fence on the back of his property for one reason: visiting with neighbors.

“I like my fence because I can actually have conversations with neighbors and can meet others,” Joe says. He also gives neighbors the ability to cut through his side yard to shorten the walk towards Inwood Road. Now that’s neighborly.

Joe’s name may sound familiar to some — years ago he was the person responsible for paying for and planting 77 oak and crepe myrtle trees that line the alleyway along the west side of the channel that runs behind Jesuit. Today, it seems more like a peaceful, tree-lined pathway thanks to Joe’s contribution. His accessible fence and plantings help to build community.

Kiki Paschall, with Northaven Park Neighborhood Association, also helps keep residents connected by organizing events, including My Park Day to clean up the parks, an annual picnic and a backyard garden tour and plant sale, to name a few. Neighbors there also get together to clean and maintain the seven community flowerbeds.

Building a strong sense of community and making life-long friends is what makes Carla McClanahan happy to live in Melshire Estates. Neighbors on her block of Ridgetown Circle host a number of yearly activities including an outdoor movie night, Christmas party and fish fry. Neighbors there watch out for each other, and they even have an ongoing group text to warn of any suspicious activity or share community news.

According to Schreiber Crime Watch Chairman Bob Kelly, hosting community activities and getting to know neighbors better can lead to safer communities. Beverly Pryor of Glen Meadow says her neighborhood association participates in National Night Out (NNO), an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships to make neighborhoods safer. “For those living in the Glen Meadows Estates area, the association offers a small reimbursement of $75 to help offset the cost of throwing a NNO block party within our neighborhood,” Pryor shares.

It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors. For the past several years, Amy Mentgen has arranged for Ruthie’s Food Truck to park in her driveway during the night of Halloween where invited guests may order and pay for a dinner on the run. She says, “We had little kids that wouldn’t make it far trick-or-treating, so we wanted to do something that would make Halloween fun for our kids, extended family and friends.”

Mentgen suggests if you want to host something similar in your own neighborhood to start small.

Much of Preston Hollow hides behind tall fences. (Photo by Lauren Law)

Much of Preston Hollow hides behind tall fences. (Photo by Lauren Law)

Holiday-inspired events run the gamut. Cheri Gambow runs the neighborhood association in Walnut Ridge where she has lived for nearly 13 years. Back in 2005, a group of women came up with an idea to get their kids thinking about community. In early December, they sent their kids door-to-door to sell luminaries — white paper bags filled with sand and candles. “The kids love packing on our driveway and look forward to it every year…and we let the kids lead the process,” Gambow says.

Luminary events are popular in the Southwest during the Christmas season. Gambow said the first year they had between 30-40 houses participate but now, 11 years in, about 90 percent of the neighborhood participates. The cost is $20 for the candles, bag and sand. After caroling at homes, participants meet for an easy dinner at a neighbor’s house, price included.

Rachel Hobbs, who once lived in the Walnut Ridge neighborhood, says the luminaries were so beautiful she brought the idea to her new neighborhood, which now has its own seasonal display. “There are some people who have kids who go to different schools or the kids were older, so for me, I wanted the event to be about us getting to know each other better,” says Hobbs.

Coming out from behind your fences is a great way to enjoy all our community has to offer. Let’s make a pre-New Year’s resolution to put down our electronics and get to know our neighbors. Remember, you can start small but the most important thing is to just start.

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