Story by Katie Pohlman
On a rainy Wednesday night, couples, widows, friends, retirees and first-generation immigrants gathered around a table at the Woodlands restaurant for one simple reason: to get to know a neighbor.
These neighborhood meetings, spawned from a post on the Nextdoor mobile app, began in January and have occurred monthly ever since. Five people showed up to the first meeting; 14 attended the April meeting, and the number of interested neighbors keeps growing.
Each meeting is about two hours long, usually during happy hour and at a different restaurant. Every person has a different reason for joining.
Mike Engleman went to the group’s second event, which he’s dubbed “Neighborlyings,” because it was at a Mexican restaurant he had always wanted to try. He stayed for the people.
“They’re unusual people, fun people,” he said while sitting at the Woodlands bar.
Others, like recent empty nesters Stephanie and Bernard Zwillenberg, thought it would be a good way to use their new-found free time.
April’s event was the Zwillenbergs’ first. The couple introduced themselves, wrote their names on name tags and pressed them to their chests, ordered drinks, then sat down to join the conversation. They sat sandwiched between the two unofficial group wranglers Judy Clasen and Kathy Harlan.
Clasen, a widow, sat at the head of the table and later, at the end of the event, asked for suggestions for the next gathering date and restaurant. She had been to two gatherings before April’s, making her one of the more veteran participants.
She has lived in Dallas her whole life and used to know her neighbors, Clasen said, but they all eventually moved away or died.
“I want to meet some new people,” she said.
Harlan is the groups’ ad hoc messenger — she created an email Listserv for the events. She knew of group meetings for people with families, or people with dogs, but she hadn’t found a group for her until attending her first neighborhood meeting.
Conversations at the long, 14-person table ranged from good restaurants to neighborhood construction projects and transportation issues as empty glasses accumulated on the table.
“This is my first one, is it ya’ll’s?” Kathleen Fawcett asked a pair of friends as they sat down at the long table.
“Yeah, we just wanted to meet neighbors,” one woman replied.
Fawcett, who trains guide dogs for blind people, figured attending an event would be a better way to connect with neighbors than just walking her in-training puppy.
Don and Pat Jancauskas overhead Fawcett talking about her dog training and jumped into the conversation.
“I’ve been looking to give back to the community,” Pat Jancauskas said.
“She wants to take our dog to retirement homes,” Don Jancauskas added.
The Jancauskas said they started attending the gatherings because they decided they would die in their current house and wanted to be involved in the neighborhood until then. They used to invite neighbors over for cookouts when they first moved in, but those stopped a while ago.
“We really want to be involved in this,” Pat Jancauskas said.
For more information about future Neighborlyings events, email Donjudyclasen@sbcglobal.net.
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