Father’s Day was coming up, and Juan Mundo-Sifuentes and his neighbor Gregory Schoenberg wanted to do something special for Gregory’s dad. After a bit of brainstorming, they decided to make a workbench. Mundo-Sifuentes, 18, of House Springs, Mo., was eager to help.
It didn’t matter that the gift wasn’t for his own father, who had recently died in Puerto Rico, where Mundo-Sifuentes was born. “Since I had lost my father a few months before that, making the workbench was really liberating,” he recalls. “I was building it for [Gregory’s] dad and also building it for my dad.” He helped with every part of the project, including the tedious cleanup, and he had fun throughout.
Mundo-Sifuentes wanted to give back because the Schoenbergs had been like a second family to him. “Whenever they need something, I’m always glad to help. We’ve always helped each other,” he says. “They took me in when my family was going through some economic problems. They let me eat at their house. The whole helping out with their family, it’s a paying-back kind of deal.” Truly, he was being a nice neighbor.
Neighborhoods can be suburban streets, city apartment buildings, or rural roads. They’re shared spaces in which people build a sense of community through thoughtfulness and respect. In many cases, such as Mundo-Sifuentes’s willingness to help his neighbors, great relationships are built and sustained by kindness.
Every day, you can make your neighborhood a great place. Being a good neighbor means helping a parent who’s trying to manage a baby in a carrier while unloading a minivan full of groceries. It’s holding the door open so the elderly person who lives upstairs doesn’t have to fish his or her key out. It’s offering your bike repair skills to the kid down the street with a broken chain. (See “Good Neighbor Gestures.”)
For example, Rachel, 14, watches the black Labrador retriever across the street when the dog’s owners travel. The same neighbors have picked her up from school when she has been sick. “I help them because I like to and because they would always be there to help me if I need it,” the Solon, Ohio, teen says.
One Good Turn Deserves Another
Why should you care about being a nice neighbor? For starters, you’ll feel good about helping someone else. But there’s more, as Mundo-Sifuentes can tell you. When he applied for a scholarship, Gregory’s mom wrote a glowing recommendation letter. Mundo-Sifuentes won the scholarship to help pay for his first year at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
“If you’re a great neighbor, I’m certainly going to do everything I can to help you,” says Bob Borzotta, a board member of the AntiViolence Partnership of Philadelphia. “[For example,] if I am influential in the business community, I can help young people get jobs. … You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
Stephen Sundet, 18, remembers a couple of older neighbors he used to help regularly before his family moved from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He painted their houses, mowed their lawns, and shoveled their snow. It made him feel good, and they returned his kindness: One neighbor treated Sundet and his brothers to a baseball game, and another took him to see the Cleveland Browns play football.
But special favors aren’t the reason to treat those around you well; being a good neighbor is its own reward. “My neighbors are like a second family to us,” Sundet says. “We still remain close to our old neighbors even though we do not get to see them every day.”
That cohesiveness doesn’t always come easy, though, notes Borzotta. “We’re all not getting along so well anymore,” he says. “People are not thinking of others.”
Being a good neighbor means being responsible and considerate of others. Did your baseball break someone’s window? Apologize and offer to pay for it. Planning a wild dance party? Keep the music down, and be polite if neighbors complain.
Many times, teens don’t realize what they’re doing bothers others, because neighbors may be reluctant to criticize children, says Borzotta. For instance, a group of teens just hanging out can sometimes intimidate adults. Adults often gripe that teens play music too loud or are rowdy, while teens may complain that adults don’t want to hear their side of a situation.
Despite your best efforts to be considerate, some members of your community might seem to be in a permanent state of grumpiness. Try to be kind or understanding. You never know what they might be dealing with: an illness, money problems, loneliness, or other issues. Compassion can be a powerful remedy. In the course of your life, you might have neighbors you just can’t find a way to get along with; by acting civil and respectful now, you’ll learn how to minimize tension and problems later.
Good Neighbors, Good Communities
By accepting your neighbors, quirks and all, you’ll discover the benefits of being connected. “When neighbors know and trust one another, the community is better able to prevent crime, to monitor children, and to accomplish shared goals, like keeping a park clean and fun,” says David J. Harding, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan. In other words, we’re all in this together.
Being a good neighbor doesn’t stop with the people who live adjacent to you. It applies to your entire community, explains Dennis Kahl, a community development educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Seward County. He works with youth to teach them community leadership skills. For example, kids in rural David City, Neb., were bored because there was little to do. Under a leadership program Kahl organized, a group of a dozen young people started talking to the town’s leaders about establishing a youth center. That discussion opened a deeper level of respectful dialogue and made the adults aware of the teens’ needs.
You can make an impact not only in your neighborhood, but in your community. When you offer to organize block parties, pitch in to clean up local trails, or serve on your town’s youth commission or teen advisory board, you help make the place you live better for everyone. And that makes you a good neighbor.
Good Neighbor Gestures
1 Treat people the way you want to be treated.
2 Respect public and private property. If damage occurs, own up to your role in it and do whatever you can to put things right,
3 Keep the noise levels down. Would you want to hear your neighbor’s music at full blast?
4 Be kind and courteous, even if a neighbor is grumpy or mean.
5 Share your skills and time with others who live around you. Visit an elderly neighbor. Pick up litter. Help someone learn to ride a bike. Look out for the younger neighborhood kids. Volunteer to shovel a neighbor’s driveway or mow his or her lawn.