Neighbor Up: Lorain County
Stone Soup— you may have heard of this dish before. It’s a strange recipe that demonstrates a powerful approach to community building. It comes from an old African folktale about a village using the power of imagination and sharing their resources and gifts to feed one another in a time of scarcity. The moral of the story is: When we all bring what we have to the table, together, we can create solutions that fulfill and uplift each of us.
Residents in Lorain County are learning this new recipe for community building with the help of the new Residential Engagement Initiative through the Community Foundation of Lorain County, Neighbor Up Lorain County. Established in Cleveland, the Neighbor Up network began as a small village of people who each had dreams and concerns for their community. After years of connecting and sharing with one another, that small village has grown to roughly 3,000 Neighbor Up network members who “[bring] people together to create a more just, equitable and inclusive community.” In partnership with the Community Foundation, the Neighbor Up network is expanding outside of Cuyahoga County for the first time to create a network in Lorain County.
We put out a call for residents in the cities of Lorain and Elyria to join us in stewarding this network into existence. In 2020 and 2021, 15 residents in Lorain and 12 residents in Elyria participated in Neighbor Up “learning labs” that equipped them with specific community network building skills, which are foundational Neighbor Up practices. Without an organizational hierarchy, the network depends on culture to stay together.
The culture of Neighbor Up is rooted in Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). ABCD focuses on “…discovering and mobilizing the resources that are already present in a community.” It challenges us to shift our mindset and to look at our neighborhoods as glasses that are “half full” of valuable people, gifts, and opportunities. This perspective of positivity allows us to ask questions that lead to lasting community solutions, such as: What can we achieve when we share our resources and gifts, build trust, and work together?
The Neighbor Up Lorain and Elyria cohorts have begun to tackle this question head-on in learning sessions that covered network and asset mapping, the importance of relationships in community building, trauma and resilience in the community, racial equity, and more. One of the most central practices of Neighbor Up, and the core action piece of the Neighbor Up Lorain County network, is Neighbor Nights. These organic community gatherings create space for greater connectivity, new relationships, and sparking change right where we live. Open to all, Neighbor Nights invite us to put our titles aside, bring our ideas and concerns to the table, and imagine and collaborate as neighbors.
“Neighbor Up believes that the most desirable community change is fueled by the interest, energies, and commitment of the broadest array of community members.” From the isolation and loss created by the pandemic to the ongoing political strife that has both revealed and sown division in our local and national communities, the positive and equitable space that Neighbor Nights promote is sorely needed. Anyone can join the network, and we welcome you to share your voice! The Lorain and Elyria cohort members are currently collaborating to host Lorain County Neighbor Nights in 2022. Would you like to get involved, meet new people in your community, and unite for change? Stay tuned to learn about upcoming Neighbor Nights and other Lorain County Neighbor Up network events.