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A happier new year

GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS

Sounds weird, but many folks don't.

You can attend a neighborhood event - or, have one yourself.

Some of our favorite ideas:

Annual seasonal events: Throw a "welcome spring" block party. Consider a cookout and patriotic bike parade for Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. Have all the neighbors put up home holiday lights on the same day, then gather for hot cider and snacks.

Another thought: Many folks choose getting rid of clutter as a new year's resolution. And that makes a spring neighborhood yard sale a great event to consider.

Beautification projects: Plant flowers or create a community vegetable garden. Have a neighborhood cleanup day, perhaps during the annual Midlands Makeover event with Keep the Midlands Beautiful. Paint a shared community fence, or pitch in to help elderly neighbors with yard maintenance. Beautifying the neighborhood can be a good way to keep up home values - and keep out crime.

Open your home: Have a garden tour of neighborhood yards and include a plant exchange. Or, organize a "progressive dinner" at several homes in the neighborhood.

GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS (PART 2)

It's fun to get to know your neighbors - but there are other important benefits.

Namely, taking a lead in crime prevention.

It's helpful if neighbors can spot a stranger on the street, especially one who might be near your home or car. Also, children need to know who they can turn to in an emergency.

If your neighborhood doesn't already have one, suggest forming a crime watch. Your local sheriff's department makes it easy; contact them or log onto their web sites for details.

GET OUT IN YOUR COMMUNITY

Often we're so busy getting from point A to point B that we forget to stop and enjoy the things in our own back yards.

Walk some neighborhoods - your own if you don't get out much, or others nearby.

Pay a visit to a neighborhood park and bring a picnic.

Read the historic markers, or stop in at one of the area's small museums.

Eat out in local restaurants and shop local retailers. Make a point of getting to know the owners and folks who work there.

And, if you're in the market for inexpensive entertainment, look no further than places like county libraries and recreation centers. They offer scores of programs for kids and adults alike, many free.

GET INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SERVICE

Today's tough economic climate has even more people - our neighbors - in need.

That trend likely will continue in 2010.

So if you're considering inviting the neighbors to an event this year, make it an opportunity to help others, too.

Put out a jar at a cookout and ask for a $1 contribution from everyone attending (it's a manageable amount even for kids with an allowance!). Or collect nonperishable food items instead.

If you're planting flowers in the neighborhood, plant a few extra pots and drop them by a nursing home or the VA hospital. Ditto for cookie exchanges - after all, if you're making a dozen cookies, why not just make it two?

At that neighborhood yard sale, have a couple of volunteers arrange to have unsold items delivered to The Cooperative Ministries, Salvation Army or another community charity.

Schools, which have faced tightening budgets, also could use a helping hand.

Purchase an item from a PTO fundraiser from one of your neighbor's children. Better still, contact your neighborhood school and ask about specific needs, whether that's reading to students once a month or donating an appliance to a kitchen.

Whatever you choose to do, resolve to try to make 2010 a better one for your family, friends - and neighbors.

- Dawn Kujawa

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