All of our neighborhoods and communities are composed of many different people with vastly different backgrounds; it is what makes the places we live unique and special. So, how can we, as members of our community, do our part to make sure that where we live is a comfortable and safe space for everyone involved? How can we make sure that everyone feels welcomed and included? There are many different ways to do this. I was inspired to find out the answer to this question after my changemaker interview with Amy Cohen, my aunt, who tutors immigrants who are new to our community to help them learn the information they will need to pass their Visa tests and obtain their green cards. One of the things she told me was that the best way I, can other members of our community, can help with the change she is trying to make is by being inclusive and welcoming to everyone, because you don’t know their backgrounds and there are small things we can do to help people transition into our neighborhood.
One simple and easy way to express welcome in a community is by putting yard signs on your lawn. Although yard signs are just signs, not actions, they still show and promote the beliefs of the people in the neighborhood. But putting lawn signs around your neighborhood, each member of the community is showing that they are caring and welcoming to everyone. One church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, created a sign that says, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The sign includes three languages: Spanish, English, and Arabic. These signs have spread to Pennsylvania, Detroit, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Canada, without any national campaign. Just this simple message can show appreciation towards all of your neighbors, making them feel more welcomed.
Another popular yard sign, especially in Philadelphia, is the Hate Has No Home Here sign. This sign has multiple different languages displayed and has become a nationwide project which also produces car magnets, stickers, posters, and other various objects. The objective of this sign is to make everyone feel safe and welcomed in their communities. The project seeks to declare neighborhood residences, businesses, and places of the community free from hate speech and behavior, providing safe places for conversation, work, learning, and living. It is a very straightforward sign which provides a safe environment due to the message of denouncing hate of any kind.
One more very easy way to create a friendly and cohesive community is by creating communal spaces for everyone to share. Examples of this are community book stores, bulletin boards, grocery stores, cafes, and other events. By putting a community board somewhere easily accessible, people can promote events, meetings, block parties, and other personal jobs such as tutoring, babysitting, or pet sitting. This makes sure everyone in the neighborhood is included with what is going on, promoting communication and friendship.
An additional way to create communal areas is through local businesses. One example of this is my neighborhood’s bookstore, Big Blue Marble. Big Blue Marble is a small business that was created in our neighborhood. It is the only location, not a chain, which means when you buy books you are supporting members of the community directly, as they only employ locals. You can also check out books like a library for free. Big Blue Marble also has several community bookshelves throughout the neighborhood, where you can take a book and then leave a book, to keep a cycle of sharing going. these bookshelves are on many streets, supporting the idea of sharing to become a tighter-knit community.
Overall, I believe it is very important that we do everything in our power to contribute to making our neighborhoods more welcoming and safe. You never know someone’s backstory, or where they come from, so it is important to always be kind and inclusive no matter what. When I was interviewing my Changemaker, Amy Cohen, who tutors immigrants in our neighborhood to make sure they have all the knowledge they will need to pass their Visa tests, she told me this.
“The main way to help create a safe environment is to be welcoming to people from other places in the community, and a cliche, but true, saying is that our country built by immigrants. Most Americans are descendants of immigrants, and one day when I was researching I found that when my great grandparents first got to Philadelphia they were helped by HIAS, the organization I tutor for, which was a really cool connection. This shows that everyone benefits from the help and kindness of other people without even knowing it. So, in general, make sure to be aware and welcoming to different communities of people to help the process of welcoming more people into the community. Being kind and helpful to everyone is the best way to help unify and make people feel at home here.”
The best way that we can begin to make our communities welcoming and safe to anyone and everyone is to be inclusive, kind, and supportive. Just by having welcoming signs displayed, community areas, and interactive communication places, you are already working to make your neighborhood a welcoming place. To go further with this, you can reach out to your neighbors. Attend block parties, and if you have never had one, get a group of people together to initiate one. Group events like this really bring together communities. You can also do something as simple as just smiling at your neighbor, or offering to help someone carry groceries. There are many simple things you can do to help make your neighborhood a friendly and welcoming environment.
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Please comment below with any additional tips and ideas to help spark change and make our communities more welcoming and safe.