The Mighty Oak

By Shae Kitchen

In the backyard of the Good Neighbor house, there is a tiny sapling planted into the ground. It stands across from a much larger, older tree a constant reminder of what it may someday become. This sapling doesn’t look like much, and it’s not. There’s nothing extraordinary or special about it. In almost every way it is a normal tree. What makes this tree special, however, is how far it has come to get to where it is now. Let me explain.

In 2017, one of the Good Neighbor settlers, Luann, received a small sapling as a gift from the Urban Gardeners Coalition, alongside other plants that had been donated to Good Neighbor. At the time it was just a thin, fragile stick, with only a few leaves to its stalk. Luann, an avid gardener, took on the small tree and cared for it. But trees take time; they don’t pop up and produce amazing foliage in a few days or weeks. It takes years to grow a tree to maturity, especially oak trees. I heard a story as a child that said you could plant an oak when you are 4 and then come back when you are 44, and the tree will still be growing. So marking any sort of progress or growth is very difficult.

Summer turned into Autumn, then into Winter. The leaves fell away and left only the stock behind. Luann kept at it, though, watering and caring for the small tree. Her fellow settlers, all in good fun, started joking with her about caring for what was essentially a stick. Luann didn’t give up on the little tree. She renamed the sprout “The Mighty Oak.” She had faith and, when springtime came around again, she was rewarded with one tiny, green leaf. Because of Luann’s care, the sapling survived through the fall and winter months, and it could sprout new leaves and continue growing, albeit at the same snail pace that it had been. Fast forward to summer 2018, and the mighty oak has continued to grow and thrive. It has a few more leaves on it now, thankfully, and has begun to actually look like a tree.

This story about a little sapling that looks like a stick and has no leaves is funny and cute and sweet, and it makes us feel good. It’s about growth and perseverance, and it should make us feel good. But it can also teach us about how important one or several pairs of nurturing hands can be. The Mighty Oak, however sturdy and mighty it may be, would never have made it without Luann. She put in the effort to make sure that this little sapling got everything that it needed, and she also had the knowledge base to know how to make it thrive. She knew how much water it needed, and how much water would be too much, and how to acclimate it to the outdoors at the right time. Because of her, The Mighty Oak became more than a twig. It took effort and knowledge and time. It was a commitment, and Luann saw it through, and she and Good Neighbor were rewarded with a beautiful little tree that now lives on the property.

Because of Luann’s efforts, The Mighty Oak can live and thrive in its best possible way. That, maybe, is the truest lesson that we can learn here. It takes perseverance and time and effort to grow into what we want to become, but it also can require that someone else pour their time and energy and effort into us. It may require that multiple people pour their time and energy into us, and that’s okay. The way that we grow is together, helping and nurturing one another. This can be hard to hear, especially in a country that is built upon the ideal of the “self-made success,” of a person who builds themselves from the ground up into a success completely by their own efforts. The problem is that, when you find those stories and really look at them, those “self-made” people did not exist in a vacuum. They had people, or they got people along the way, that helped to build them up and make them what they were. They also had people that they loved and cared about and poured their efforts into. Two people in community can accomplish more than either one could alone. We need people to pour into us in order to become our best selves, and that is completely normal, natural, and okay.

This is also a lesson that community spaces, like Good Neighbor, can learn from. Building and nurturing a communal space takes time and energy and vulnerability. It means setting roots into a place and devoting oneself to nurturing and fostering community in that space. It means being willing and able to love others without feeling like they owe you something in return. It means time and energy without any guarantee of return on investment. It even means, sometimes, being willing to look at a twig and see what it can be instead of what it is currently. Good Neighbor is lucky to have a permanent reminder of that lesson in our own backyard, and we are grateful for the Sanger Heights community. We love it here and we, like The Mighty Oak, have set our roots deep. We have worked with so many beautiful and unique sets of people here in this space, and we look forward to continuing to work with others.

5 Ways to be a Good Neighbor

By Shae Kitchen

The poet John Donne once said that “no man is an island” and yet we have found ourselves living increasingly isolated lives. On a national scale, we are witnessing communities hunkering down and drawing lines in the sand, often refusing to engage with anyone outside of their respective bubbles. These bubbles have the power to disconnect us from each other, creating walls where there naturally should be bridges. We are all linked as human beings, so what affects one person or a group of people affects all of us. Our greatest strengths emerge when we act together to improve the life of every person. That is what it means to be neighborly —to love someone as a brother or sister regardless of our differences.

This goal requires that work be done on the local level. This is where the mission of Good Neighbor and organizations like it emerge and take action. We believe that developing neighborly communities is essential to the betterment of humanity, and a major decree of Jesus’s mission for this earth.

Being neighborly does not always mean making grand gestures. Sometimes the smallest moments, like a smile and a genuine hello, can be instrumental in helping someone get through a tough day. Here are five small ways that you can be a good neighbor today:

1.) Respect Your Space

Keep your space looking nice. Plant flowers, do some landscaping. Not only is this a way to express yourself, but spending a lot of time outside naturally results in contact with other people.  If you live in an apartment, keep the area around your front door clean and tidy. Put out some real (or fake, no one’s judging) plants, and throw out a welcome mat. Little touches like these never fail to make the place feel more homey. Even a welcome mat by itself can transform a front door space into a welcoming venue. This may seem like a small task, and it is, but by respecting your immediately visible space you are showing that you respect yourself, your space, and the space of your immediate neighbors.

2.) Introduce Yourself

It is never too late to introduce yourself to your neighbors. Learning someone’s name is the first step to forming any type of relationship and makes future interactions much smoother. Also, try very hard to remember their names. If you are having a hard time hearing or pronouncing their name, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat it. Showing that you remember someone’s name tells that person that you were actively listening to what they were saying, and makes people more likely to interact with you later on.

3.) Ask Someone How They’re Doing — Then Actually Listen to Their Answer

Have you ever had one of those moments in a conversation where you just know the person isn’t interested in anything you have to say, and is only asking to seem polite? We call it “small talk” because that is what it is, small and relatively mediocre conversations. Put an end to it. You don’t need this in your life. Practice active listening: look people in the eye when they are talking, respond to what they are saying and build upon it. Stay connected and stay present in the moment. Ask follow up questions and listen to the answers that they give you. Of course, if the other person is just not interested in talking further, don’t push the issue. Even so, remain friendly. Your consistency may be just the thing to bring some people out of their shells. This seems like a lot to think about in conversation, and if you are someone with social anxiety this task may seem unachievable. Just remember that active listening is a skill that is developed with time and experience. Be patient with yourself, and step outside of your comfort zone.

4.) Offer and Receive Help Generously

If you see your neighbor struggling with groceries or a heavy box, take a moment and offer to help them with their load. They may reject your offer, but that isn’t the point. The point is to notice when someone around you is having a hard time and take action to help lighten their burden. Likewise, when someone offers to help you with your load, remember to thank them for their willing hearts. This second measure can be more difficult than the first, especially if you are the type of person who leans more towards giving than receiving. In allowing someone to help you, you gift the giver a sense of worth and value in service.

5.) Attend or Host a Community Event

This requires a great deal more dedication in terms of time and energy than the other ideas. Block parties and community events, however, are a rare occasion that neighbors have to come together. These are moments to fully embrace and enjoy each other’s company. If these events are being held in your neighborhood, definitely take the time to make an appearance. If no planned block parties are happening near you AND you have the time and energy to invest in planning an event, feel free to take on the responsibility yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable hosting events at your own home, centers of community like the Good Neighbor House are always a solid resource. The Good Neighbor house, specifically, is intended to be such a space, with the explicit goal of bringing the Sanger Heights community together.

Being a good neighbor doesn’t always require a major time commitment. It does, however, require you to be intentional in your interactions with other people. By being consistently kind, considerate, and (for a lack of a better term) neighborly, you set an example for others to follow. This example may ripple outwards, encouraging people to act in similarly kind ways.

These are just a few examples of how you can be a good neighbor today and in your daily life. If you have some ideas that we have missed, let us know on our Facebook page, and if you found some of these tips helpful, please share this post with your friends. We’d be very grateful.

If you would like to learn more about Good Neighbor House or want to use the space, please visit our website and/or email us at info@goodneighborwaco.org for more details.

Settling the Nineteenth Century

by Megan McAllister

The bright yellow house on the corner of Colcord Ave and 23rd street is hard to miss, and that’s good because the house and its occupants are eager for people to join them. The Good Neighbor House, located in Waco, Texas is modeled after settlement homes of the nineteenth century. Settlement homes are houses owned by a group of people with the intent of living there and serving their local community by opening their doors to anyone who may need to use the space. They do this in response to Christ calling us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Today the Good Neighbor House is host to many events put on by a diverse group of organizations, but what did the original settlers houses do? It’s reasonable to assume that they were used in vastly different ways because the house and settlers serve the community so as the community’s needs change, so do the services the settlement house provide. To truly understand settlement house one must go back to the nineteenth century to see how this all got started.

The Settlement House movement began over a hundred years ago in 1884 in East London. The very first settlement house was Toynbee Hall and it provided social services and education to the poor that resided in the home. This began the settlement house movement. It quickly became popular in the United States and by 1887 there were seventy-four settlement homes in the U.S. Originally settlement houses were used to help immigrants assimilate into the workforce by teaching them middle class American values, such as art, literature, and history, and also helping to reduce the effects of poverty by having daycare centers, homeless shelters, and public kitchens and baths.

Toynbee Hall c. 1900 (Photo provided by http://www.toynbeehall.org.uk)

Originally Settlement houses were nondenominational though many religious organizations were responsible for establishing the settlements. While this isn’t surprising, one exciting piece of information is that women filled most of the important leadership roles even during an era when women were excluded from leadership positions in government and even business. Women started nearly half of the settlement homes in the US predominantly. This is not at all unlike our very own Good Neighbor House here in Waco, started by Dr. Laine Scales a female professor at Baylor University. ​
So while the Good Neighbor House doesn’t serve in exactly the same ways that the original settlement houses did, it is still meeting the needs of their community and serving their neighbors. Everyone at Good Neighbor is excited to carry on this long and proud movement We beleive that Good Neighbor, like the women- led settlement houses of the past, is becoming an an important thread in the fabric of our Waco Community.

Top 5 Reasons to be a Good Neighbor Settler

Luann in front of the Good Neighbor HouseBy Luann Jennings

My husband Chuck and I have now been settlers at the Good Neighbor House for 9 months. We’ve seen a huge change in the house, as it went from mid-renovation to open and functioning, and we’ve seen the vision for the house begin to spring to life. Chuck and I live in the cottage behind the house but participate fully in the operation of the house.

The two settlers who live on the top floor of the house will both be moving out in August, and the board of directors is looking for two new settlers to join our community then. The board asked me to talk a bit about what it means to be a settler, and what someone who might want to join our community could expect. After reading this, if you’re interested in learning more about becoming a settler, contact our board member, Julie Small, at juliesmall012@gmail.com. And please forward the information to anyone you know who might be a good candidate. Settlers must be 21 or older and have the desire and time to serve the house and our neighbors.

So, based on what I’ve experienced here, and can see the beginnings of as we continue to discover what the Good Neighbor House (GNH) is about, here are my:

Top 5 Reasons to be a Good Neighbor Settler

5. Cheap rent. Although this might be the first thing that attracts a potential settler, it really should be the last (which is why it’s #5). But, yes, a portion of our rent is subsidized as a “thank you” for our service to the house. We each serve the house and its operations for 20-30 hours per month, which may be difficult for someone who has a full-time job or otherwise has significant, structured time obligations elsewhere. Settlers in the main house pay $250/month each, which includes rent, utilities, and wifi. Because GNH is a registered non-profit organization, settlers can even raise support or ask for donations from their personal circle to help cover their rent and reduce their need to use student loans or funds earned in outside jobs. Settlers with varying schedules or who sometimes work from home tend to have an easier time with the service commitment than those who are required to be away from home all day Monday-through-Friday.

4. Living in community. Because we live, work, and serve together, settlers get closer than neighbors or even roommates. We meet weekly for prayer, study, fellowship, and to run the business of the house. Once a month we have dinner with neighbors to get to know them better and to hear their perspectives on what a “good neighbor” is in our neighborhood context. Because settlers don’t choose each other, we learn to love one another without the benefit of an existing relationship. We have the opportunity to really be the Church to one another in the ways that Christ asks of us.

3. Experience. This is a great place to get experience in ministry, social service, non-profit management, fundraising, and just about anything else that someone might want to get experience in. GNH is a blank slate for what we can do here. For instance, my husband Chuck is a jazz musician and he’s working on a concert series at the house. I’m really interested in vegetable and flower gardening, and environmentally sustainable practices, so I’ve created a community garden here and am working on a rainwater collection program. Anything you do here can go on your resume.

2. Investing in the neighborhood and the city. “Place” is important. We are not disembodied “minds” or “spirits” floating around in the ether – we are physical beings connected to a specific, tangible place. Waco is thinking about who we are as a city, and what kind of place we want to be for ourselves, our children, and those who will live here one day. Sanger Heights is one of Waco’s oldest and most diverse neighborhoods, and it has a strong neighborhood association (with which GNH is very involved) that is working hard to make Sanger Heights representative of the best that Waco can be. By planting roots at Good Neighbor House and investing your life here (even for just a year), you will be helping to make Waco a better place to live for everyone.

1. Serving Christ. Scripture contains plenty of references to hospitality as a way we can “love our neighbors as ourselves” (the second Great Commandment), including the famous example of the Good Samaritan who Christ uses as an example of what it really means to be a neighbor – selfless sacrifice and care crossing religious, cultural, and economic lines. GNH opens our home to all of our neighbors and serves them through providing opportunities to gather and other kinds of hospitality and care, regardless of their ability to pay. It’s not always easy to invite strangers in – to clean up after them, to reach out to them, to live among them – but Christ says that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

[photo of Luann by Rod Aydelotte for an article in the Waco Tribune-Herald.]

Good Neighbor House covered by the Waco Trib

"Good Neighbor Settlement House" sign from the Waco Trib article.In case you missed it, check out the terrific article that the Waco Tribune-Herald ran, both online and as the cover story of the “Neighbors” section of the print version on Sunday, November 20!

The online story includes 13 photos (including the one above), so if you’d like to get a good look at the house click here or on the Image tab.

The story, written by reporter Cassie Smith, begins:

A North Waco home once green-tagged as unsafe for habitation has been renovated and opened as a neighborhood social hub aimed at breaking down prejudices, separation and fear.

The Baylor University professor who owns the house is working toward those goals by inviting the neighborhood in to connect with each other and build relationships and a sense of community.

Laine Scales bought the abandoned day care at 23rd Street and Colcord Avenue in 2011 and five years later believes the patience and hard work of many volunteers have paid off.

Located in what the education professor with a social work background calls the most diverse and mixed area of Waco, operations at the small yellow home are based on a practice that started in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Volunteers will live in the house, dubbed the Good Neighbor Settlement House, and a cottage directly behind it and open the doors to community functions in exchange for donations rather than fixed fees.

Read more here!

Good Neighbor House is open!

Newspaper Clipping

From Waco Tribune-Herald, 2012.

We can hardly believe we’ve made it to this point, but we’re so excited that we have. Our excitement got us thinking: what better way to celebrate new achievements than by looking back on where we’ve come from? To do this, we sat down with Laine Scales, our fearless founder, to see what she had to say about how Good Neighbor House came to be.

For starters, it’s good to know a little bit of background on the house. The house itself was bought by Laine in 2011, and planning for the house began in 2012. By 2013, Good Neighbor House had been officially established as a nonprofit organization. The Good Neighbor Board of Directors and the first group of residents (called “settlers”) began the daunting project with the goal of providing outreach to the community around the house. In 2014 the first settlers moved in and began fundraising and participating in community events, such as Halloween on Colcord.

Laine says of the goals for the house:

“The vision of the historic settlement house has always been to break down barriers between people. If our neighbors can get to know each other, work together on learning something, doing a project, or worshipping together, we have facilitated a chance for people to care more about each other and their community.  That can be a slow process, but showing up and being available is a great beginning point.”

We asked Laine a few questions about how the experience of working on the house has gone so far.

“Refurbishing an older building was much harder and more expensive than we thought.  As soon as one thing would be repaired (for example the roof), something else would fall apart or a tree would fall in the yard and damage the building.  But we had such a supportive group of friends and board members who would not give up.   We really benefitted from groups like Mannaworks and Russell Feight’s Alpha Property Maintenance Group who did whatever they could to make the building come together.”

But while sometimes the work was tough, it was nothing if not rewarding. “I have been amazed at how positively people respond to the idea of Good Neighbor House,” Laine says fondly.

“Everyone from neighbors, to students and teachers, to community leaders and other non-profits hoping to use the building were excited.  Everyone thinks it’s a great idea to bring people together. Rewards often come at the end of a long journey, so sitting out in the yard last week, eating BBQ with neighbors, listening to music, meeting neighbors I had not yet met… what a pleasure to realize that, indeed, if we create a space, people will show up.”

We here at Good Neighbor are happy to see years of work come to fruition, and now we hope to be able to provide for our community through the newly opened house. But as much as we’d like to take credit for this project, we wouldn’t be where we are today, nor would we be able to get where we’re going without the community. Laine told us that the most important thing she’d like for the Good Neighbor community to know is “That what we have done is create an open space, but it is really going to be up to the community to decide how to use the space and to help support keeping the doors open by making donations.  If we build a useful and welcoming space but if the community does not use it or does not support it financially, it cannot reach its potential.”

Laine told us that the most important thing she’d like for the Good Neighbor community to know is :

“What we have done is create an open space, but it is really going to be up to the community to decide how to use the space and to help support keeping the doors open by making donations.  If we build a useful and welcoming space but if the community does not use it or does not support it financially, it cannot reach its potential.”

We’re glad to open our doors to you, Sanger-Heights – and to the rest of Waco as well!

Stay tuned for more blog posts, articles, and interviews with Good Neighbor organizers!