Creating a city of great neighbors in Modesto

Brad Hawn
Brad Hawn The Modesto Bee

When you think of a “perfect” neighborhood, usually the dream that comes to mind is friendliness, knowing each other, local merchants, and a feeling of safety.

In our lagging economy, such feelings have diminished. That has caused many citizens to review what gives them a sense of safety and belonging. Families spend less time together as parents work longer hours and kids are on tight schedules; leisure time is short. Thinking about our neighborhoods has faded from our minds.

But Modesto neighbors have not forgotten that we are a city of great neighbors, and we do care about each other.

A growing sense of the special connections that exist in our neighborhoods is emerging; many want to deepen those connections.

About 10 years ago, residents in the La Loma area began dreaming about what they could do to make their neighborhood safer. The vision included working with law enforcement and city and county officials, but more importantly, they asked around to find out what assets their neighbors could offer.

This sense of neighbors connecting today has a name – “neighboring.”

These efforts are spreading throughout the city as similar neighborhood groups develop. As they grow, so do the feelings of connection and safety.

Today, a neighborhood business can amplify this sense of community, security and connection for those living nearby. A good business is also a good neighbor.

Together, they create a thriving, vital sense of community.

From the success of the La Loma residents’ work, a nonprofit called Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. (MNI) was formed to support the development of new neighborhood groups and connect with existing groups to create a hub where all neighborhoods can find mutual support and encourage each other.

The approach is to:

▪ Intentionally get to know each other,

▪ Enhance neighborhood safety,

▪ Address specific needs and interests,

▪ Beautify surroundings,

▪ Nurture a family-friendly atmosphere

▪ Develop a sense of well-being for individuals and collectively through shared goals and interests.

The mission and vision of Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. is “Making Modesto Better, One Neighborhood at a Time.” Naturally, we have an acronym: Promote, Empower, Assist, Connect and Equip – creating PEACE in Modesto’s diverse neighborhoods.

To explain further:

Promote the “neighboring movement” to law enforcement, government officials, neighbors, nongovernmental organizations, all city residents, schools, churches and businesses.

Empower those with unique gifts, abilities, talents and assets of neighbors and neighborhoods through leadership, training, encouragement, mentoring, support, cross-learning and materials.

Assist neighborhoods to meet their unique goals.

Connect neighborhoods, groups and resources citywide.

Equip all with tools needed to be successful by working through volunteers and the media to provide communication tools, meeting assistance, event organization and even a Guidebook to help organize neighborhood groups.

We also want to develop youth leadership and service, work cooperatively, delegate and provide information to bring together interested neighbors to make these activities sustainable.

We’re already seeing results. Trust and partnerships are being built between neighbors and the Modesto police and fire departments, the county sheriff’s office, and city and county staff. We’re also partnering with other like-minded groups. Simply encouraging neighbors to report suspicious activities is helping reduce criminal activity.

Training sessions are planned to enhance neighborhood leadership and gatherings will strengthen each neighborhood and our entire community. We need everyone to be involved in neighborhoods, schools and wherever help is needed.

Our success will be seen in the growth of new neighborhood groups.

It’s a big task, but with each person doing what they can, the vision can happen if we work together.

As we clarify what works, and what doesn’t, for our community and share our skills with each other, we will get to know each other and build trust.

Individuals, parents, business owners, elected officials – we are the ones who make each other feel safe by our actions toward each other; by looking out for one another.

Citywide conversations are going on about an approach to collaboration. Why duplicate services or skills when organizations, businesses, government and individuals can simply share resources?

It is time to revision; recognize what is not working, then focus on new ideas and insights that might not have been considered before. It is a creative process that can help our city and neighborhoods become safer.

By understanding what we are facing and getting to know each other from next door to across town, we will meet those who make “Modesto, a City of Great Neighbors.”

Think about how you can do something each day to create a safer, supportive place to live. It can be as simple as a smile or as bold as a new vision of what your neighborhood can become.

You will be a part of making the change for the better. All of Modesto is our resource. We are here to help.

Brad Hawn is a former Modesto city councilman; the Rev. Marvin Jacobo is executive director of City Ministry Network; Twainhart Hill is on the Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. board of directors and Neighborhood Watch captain.