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Celebrating People, Places & the Good Life in SW Washington State
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Category — Building Community

Knowing Your Neighbors Can Save Your Life – 9 Ways to Get Neighborly

Do you know your neighbors? Many studies document the value of  knowing your neighbors to overall health and well-being. Neighboring can save your life.

A University of Minnesota study  found that older adults who have had a stroke have a better survival rate if they have a “cohesive neighborhood” as defined by neighbor interactions. The incidence of strokes did not differ but survival rate did.

Researchers from Brigham Young University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at data from 148 studies and found a correlation between social relationships and death rates. Looking at research on more than 300,000 men and women from developed countries, they found that those without social connections  had a 50% higher odds of death during the follow up period of the study. (The researchers reported that this is about the same mortality difference as between smokers and non-smokers.)

Watch this two-minute video on the impact of knowing your neighbors as found by the Arizona Health Survey:

Who’s on your block?
Unfortunately, the benefits of neighboring aren’t always making it to or appreciated on the street. In 2010, the Pew Research Center released a report on how neighbors communicate. 28% knew none of their neighbors by name. 46% of Americans talked face-to-face with neighbors about community issues in the prior 12 months, so more than half did not. A full year is a long time to go without talking face-to-face with a neighbor about life in your shared community.

While there are a growing number of people keeping track of neighborhood activities via digital tools like blogs, email, Facebook, and other social media, can that really take the place of a chat over the back fence or a holiday gathering of neighbors?

Unfortunately, opportunities to neighbor have been designed out of our communities. We pull up to our garages, open the door remotely and enter the house without any human interactions. And what happened to front porches in close proximity to sidewalks? Television and computers, of course, have also sucked up time and relationships. What’s a person who wants to know her or his neighbors to do?

When “Neighbor” is a verb
We’re lucky. “Neighbor” is a verb on our block. Throughout the year, we find lots of reasons to gather – holidays, bottling of a new batch of beer, root beer float weather – friendships and community are built year round.

Here are a few ideas for building community and relationships with your neighbors. Feel free to add your own to the comment section.

Chinese or Lunar New Year – Celebrate Chinese New Year by inviting your neighbors out for dinner at your favorite Chinese restaurant to celebrate the New Year. Call ahead and reserve a large table. No one has to clean house or do the dishes afterwards. Wear red for good luck. Gung hay fat choy!

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day with Our Neighbors

St. Patrick’s Day – Our neighbor, Susan, invites the neighbors in for Irish Coffee, soda bread and shamrock cookies to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. By March, we’ve all spent way too much time indoors. It’s a nice opportunity to see everyone, share catch up on family news and view how much the children have grown.

Summer potluck – Open your yard or get permission to close your street for a neighborhood potluck. Collect ample picnic tables and ask everyone to bring their own chairs. We did a potluck for 20 neighbors and other friends last year with an Italian theme and assigned courses but it doesn’t have to be that formal.

Ready to serve the neighbors

A few of 20 or so neighbors gathering for summer floats

Root beer floats – Each summer, we invite our neighbors over for root beer floats on the patio. It is a really simple, affordable and fun way to entertain. We still haven’t reached consensus on whether you put the ice cream or root beer into the glass first. Either way, they taste great!

Halloween –After the little (and not so little) goblins have stopped ringing doorbells, our neighbor, Janis, has the neighbors in for hot cider and gingerbread. It’s a lovely way to catch up on news of the block and wind down after a wild evening of costumes and candy.

Holiday cookie exchange

Holiday Cookie bake – This takes some preparation but is a fun way to kick off the holidays. Invite neighbors to make a large batch of their favorite cookies. Each participant will then choose a collection of cookies. Our neighbor, Caitlyn, had cute boxes and ribbons prepared for us. See 5.5 Reasons to do a Cookie Bake.

Year-round Opportunities

The Super Scrabble Board - Quadruple Points and Extra Q's and Z's!

Scrabble – Invite your neighbors over for a Scrabble “tournament.” Ask them to bring their Scrabble games and divide the group into tables. Another option is to play “Super Scrabble.” When I heard that Super Scrabble existed, I hustled (okay, I asked my husband to hustle) to a toy store to buy the game. It has an oversized board and extra letters (2 “z’s” and “q’s”!). We play Singing Scrabble with it with six people. After you make a word, you have to sing a song related to it. (Yes, adult beverages help to “loosen” the vocal cords and singing inhibitions!) Scrabble lovers should really enjoy the version of the game. Banagrams, Bunco, there are lots of options.

Book group - great use of a deck on a summer day!

A key ingredient to a successful gathering!

Book group – One friend lives on a block with its own book group. Take a poll of your neighbors to see if there is interest and the types of books they prefer to read.

Cooking up hops for a new brew

Happy Brewing or Happy Hour – We seem to have lots of home brewers in the neighborhood. They have created the “29th Street Brewers Guild” which gathers to help bottle (and taste) beer. Our neighbor, Jerrad, is especially generous with beer tastings. Another friend lives on a cul-de-sac where neighbors raise a flag to say happy hour has started. Consider the possibilities!

One of my heroes, the late Jane Jacobs (author of Death and Life of Great American Cities) wrote “In real life, only from the ordinary adults of the city sidewalks do children learn – if they learn it at all – the first fundamental of successful city life: People must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other.”

We are so in this world together. It’s up to us to be the congenial neighbors we’ve been waiting for, and to pass on those neighboring skills to our children and grandchildren.

June 26, 2012   No Comments

What if YOU Could Change the World One Dinner at a Time?

How do you make a difference in the world? We’re tucked in our corner of Washington State looking out at a globe filled with unfathomable poverty, disease, injustice… It’s particularly hard to know how to make an impact in other countries where the level of need and lack of infrastructure is staggering, if not paralyzing.

Sometimes a simple yet impactful idea comes along that makes perfect sense. That’s what happened in 2003 when Marsha Wallace, a nurse and mother of four in South Carolina invited her friends for a birthday dinner with special instructions – no gifts please. Her friends instead shared a potluck and wrote checks to the organization Women for Women International. That was an “aha” moment for Marsha. Why couldn’t these dinners happen in other homes? She started spreading the idea of Dining for Women and did it ever spread. Nine years later and 250 chapters later, in February 2012, Dining for Women was featured on NBC Nightly news. View it here

Connecting Southwest Washington to the World
So what does this have to do with Southwest Washington? Once a month it has everything to do with our corner of the world. We, in fact, traveled the world without even dusting off our passports. For the past year, every 2nd Tuesday of the month, a Vancouver, WA Chapter of Dining for Women has gathered for a potluck dinner, short video and presentation about an organization offering life-changing programs for women and girls who often live on less than $1 a day. We eat, we drink and share good company. We learn about other cultures and international issues. And we get out our checkbooks and write checks for what we might have spent had we dined out. A giving circle is a simple concept with far-reaching effects.

Our first meeting, January 2011

It’s not just about our group of about 40 diners each month. Our donations are combined with the contributions of the other Dining for Women Chapters to raise funds for organizations that have gone through an application process and have been fully researched by Dining for Women volunteers. One group is funded each month with grants averaging about $36,000-$40,000. It is incredibly exciting to be investing in and empowering girls and women around the world.

Most DFW Chapters meet in homes. Our Chapter is larger than the average group so we meet in a church. We are hoping that more volunteers will start chapters throughout our area (or wherever they live!). For information on how to start a chapter click here . Use the same link to receive information about our chapter and others across the country and international locations.

Which groups did we fund in 2011?
In January 2011, we kicked off our local Dining for Women Chapter with a full house. By the end of the evening, we had raised $1100 for Matrichaya of India, which provides literacy and vocational training and micro-credit programs. It was a magical evening and the first of many sumptuous and inspiring dinners.

Matrichaya teachers

February drew even more women – 65! Our contributions supported PINCC (Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer) in El Salvador, where Dr. Kay Taylor uses our funds to train doctors and other health professionals to do life-saving cervical exams (with a simple vinegar wash) and treatment of cervical cancer. We also were reminded of the importance of getting our own pap smears done on a regular basis.

Dr. Kay Taylor provides training

We “traveled” to Africa in March to learn about, and fund, the work of Uganda’s Village Enterprise Fund, which is using our donations to fund startup capital and critical business skills training for 145 women entrepreneurs.

An entrepreneur from the Village Enterprise Fund

In April, we tackled sex trafficking by funding Lotus Outreach International in Cambodia. Our contributions will provide trauma counseling and reintegration assistance for Cambodian victims of rape, domestic violence and sex trafficking. Counseling services are rare in Cambodia. This is a breakthrough program.

Lotus Outreach classroom

We supported the women of Mujeres Aliadas in Mexico in May. We learned about their lack of access to quality, affordable health care. We raised funds to reduce maternal and infant mortality by supporting professional midwives and providing medical equipment in a women’s clinic and birthing center.

June took us back to Africa and the Shining Hope for Communities in Kenya. This program supports the Kibera School for Girls, which is located in one of the worst slums in Nairobi. Our funds are being used to operate the school and to invest in the Women’s Empowerment Project’s micro-enterprise initiatives. The photos of all those little girls who are now in school says it all. Don’t miss their charming video “I Know I Can.”

Students from the Kibera School for Girls

We learned about the lives of the young women being served by Emerge Global of Sri Lanka in July. These girls, ages 10-18, have been removed from their homes due to abuse such as rape and incest. The Emerge Global program provides them with skills and financial resources for their futures. Our funds helped support their expanding bead program, which creates gorgeous necklaces and bracelets. You can order their beautiful jewelry through their Etsy Web site here.

Helping the Sri Lankan girls of Emerge Global

August took us back to Africa and girls education at the Nurturing Minds Program in Tanzania. Our donations enabled the Sega Girls School to develop and manage its first school-run business—poultry farming—and develop related business and technical skills among its students. Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations has called the education of girls, “the single highest returning social investment in the world today.” Dining for Women is COMMITTED to the education and empowerment of those girls.

Girls from the Sega Girls School

Many of our hearts broke the night of September 13 when we heard the tragic stories of girls and women with obstetric fistulas. We raised funds ($1185 – our personal best for the year!) for the Fistula Foundation. Combined with the funds from other Chapters, our funds will help provide fistula repair surgery and post-op for 66 women in Ethiopia. We were all highly moved by the program. (We later learned that enough money was raised to fund even more surgeries.)

A young fistula patient

Guatemala has long been recognized for its beautiful crafts and textiles. But how do you get them to market? In October, we supported Mercado Global of Guatemala. This Fair Trade organization works with indigenous women in Guatemala’s highlands. The group connects the women with U.S. sales opportunities. Dining for Women dollars funded sales and training programs for the artisans so they could expand their businesses.

Mercado Global artisans

The India Literacy Project has a serious goal – 100% literacy in India. The group is tackling this issue one village at a time. Our funds raised in November will impact 26 villages in Sundargarh in the state of Orissa by providing girls’ scholarships and job skills, among other services. It is amazing how far our dollars can stretch through our funded programs.

India Literacy Project

We learned about Project Muso of Mali in December. We raised funds to provide matching grants, non-interest loans and financial management skills for 90 women entrepreneurs. We watched (and wanted to dance to the DVD soundtrack) the women creating beautiful mud cloth in their excellent video which shows the far-reaching impact of micro-loans as small as $60-$100.

Businesswoman from Mali

What a spectacular first year! Averaging $1,000 per dinner, we raised more than $12,000!

Onward in 2012

In the first half of 2012, we will fund programs in Nepal, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Kenya. Programs funded in the second half of 2012 will be announced soon.

Thank about starting or joining a Chapter. Mentoring is available. If you are interested in more information about Dining for Women, check out the program Web site or fill out a member interest form. This is one evening each month where you can truly know feel that you are “changing the world one dinner at a time.”

Our February 2012 Meeting

February 21, 2012   No Comments

A Dog’s Life: Who’s Walking Whom?

It’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Most Southwest Washington residents are snoozing. Not so for Sam, Buddy and Jesse. Ditto for Pink and Gidget. The Ross Off-Leash Dog Recreation Area in Vancouver is animated with wide-awake canines and, of course, their owners.

The 8-acre park is managed by DOGPAW, the Dog Owners Group for Park Access in Washington. The group’s Mission is “to work with dog owners and the community at large to promote awareness and acceptance and to increase the availability for safe off leash areas for dogs in Clark County.” Located on BPA Complex grounds at NE Ross St and NE 15th Ave, the park offers a large, hilly off leash area with walking trail and collection of benches, plus an adjacent park for smaller dogs.

The owners may be walking the dogs, but the dogs are exercising their masters, too. Many a dog owner has gotten in shape following his or her hound up and down the hilly park. Some walk the 3/4 mile loop multiple times for a human workout.

So who is out there?

Bruce and Sam


Don and Pink



7:30 a.m. - Surrounded by dogs

Pink and Gidget, who longingly looks out from the small dog area

Where are the sheep?

Hanging out in the flowers

Kings and queen of the bark dust hill

Buddy of Buddy and Bosco

Bosco looking for friends

Love in the dog park: Bosco finds Sparky

8 a.m. - More canines and companions hit the trail

Pure joy...

“The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue.” (author unknown)

Enough said.

August 14, 2011   No Comments

What Would YOU Do With a Century Old Hospital?

What would you suggest if asked how to reuse a 100+-year-old military hospital? The Fort Vancouver National Trust is asking that question about the Post Hospital.

But wait! The question gets even richer. Input is sought on how to reuse the hospital as an arts education center and visual arts museum.

The Post Hospital opened in 1905. It served more than 20,500 victims of the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. More recently, it housed Army offices. It has been vacant since the mid-1990s. The building is owned by the City of Vancouver but is leased by the Trust.

On Tuesday, February 15, artists and other community members are invited to join a Community Conversation about the future use of the hospital. This important meeting will be held at Pearson Air Museum from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. What a great opportunity help shape the future of this landmark building.

Imagine. What would you do with these spaces?

Post Hospital from the SE Corner

West side of the hospital next to I-5

One of the larger rooms

Lots of hallway and small rooms

A vintage ladies room

A view of a few Fort buildings from the hospital

A view to the west of the new Vancouver Community Library

Fir tongue-and-groove floors plus fireplace

Welcome to the past. What will the next sign say?

This is a building that will obviously need much work. But what an opportunity! Officers Row was saved. The Red Cross Building and O.O. Howard House were restored. It’s time to preserve our historical architecture again. To RSVP for the Community Conversation, contact the Trust at 360-992-1804.

February 10, 2011   No Comments

A Mural with Creativity, Passion and Hope

From caves to churches, public building interiors to downtown walls, murals have made social and political statements throughout the ages. Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Diego Rivera and José Orozco, Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, all shared their art through public murals. The list of muralists is long. So how do these esteemed artists connect to Southwest Washington?

In the tradition of these painters, Daybreak Youth Services volunteers created a massive outdoor mural in downtown Vancouver in 2008. “A group of us sat in the shade of the wall one Saturday morning in 2008 and talked about addiction and recovery,” says Donna Wiench, Daybreak Youth Services Development Director. “We discussed the darkness, the constant dissatisfaction and restlessness of addiction and how recovery is like coming into the light and peace.” The teens started drawing and art teacher Heather Fukuchi “put the images together to illustrate the story of going from darkness to light, with the help of community, responsibility, family and love.”

The theme, From Addition to Freedom, depicted the struggles of addiction, along with words like “pain,” “crime” and “hate” and then colorfully morphed into a rainbow and sun, along with words like “responsibility,” “recovery” and “love.” It was a massive act of creativity, which involved more than 30 staff, volunteers, youth ranging from grade school through high school, and teens in recovery.

Imagine how they felt when, even after “offending words” were removed, a building owner completely painted over the mural in the middle of a summer night in 2009. Personally, I was extremely offended by that act, as were many, many other community members.

The good news? The mural lives!

Bookmark © Daybreak Youth Services. Reproduced with permission.

The message of the mural has made the transition from a half-block wide downtown wall to a 3” x 8” bookmark. “Where are you in the mural?” it asks. It’s a fine reminder about the road from addiction to recovery, the drug and alcohol treatment provided to more than 1,100 teens annually by Daybreak Youth Services in Vancouver and Spokane, and power of words, art and paint on the side of a downtown wall. Welcome back, Daybreak mural and thank you, artists!

For more information:
Where to find the bookmark:
Fort Vancouver Regional Library branches, Vintage Books, the law firms of Scott Horenstein (900 Washington #1020) and Miller Nash (500 E. Broadway, #400), among other locations.

Mural Information: Daybreak Mural

Clark County Mural Information: Clark County Mural Society

October 17, 2010   No Comments

The 10 Minute Conversation: Filmmaker Breven Angaelica Warren

Breven Angaelica Warren is the founder and producer of the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival. Formerly known as the Washougal Film Festival, the newly-named event will move to the downtown Vancouver Hilton and Convention Center this month. It will open on Wednesday, August 18 and close on Sunday night, August 22.

Breven Angaelica Warren, Producer, Columbia Gorge International Film Festival

The opening night starts with a reception followed by a screening of Earthwork, directed by Chris Ordal. In addition a film designed to be projected onto ice will be shown – on ice, with music.

Films will be shown throughout the day and evening on Thursday, Friday and during the day on Saturday – in four different theaters at the Convention Center. An awards ceremony will be held on Saturday night and prize-winning films will be re-screened on Sunday.

A filmmaker and producer who also works at other festivals like Sundance, Breven has scheduled more than 300 films, ranging in length from 1 minute to 2.5 hours. Numerous filmmakers are coming to Vancouver for the event. Admission to view the films is free! Trailers for some of the films are available at Trailer Addict . The complete film list is posted here.

What brought you to SW Washington?

My mother graduated from Washougal and my dad graduated from Camas so I was made here. They had me in Florida and I grew up in Florida and Jamaica. My family moved back here quite a few years ago and I came here to help them with what they were doing and I am a filmmaker so I brought my film projects with me.

I was living in Washougal and the community was so amazingly supportive of my filmmaking. A lot of times I would get the question, “Where can we see your films?” Unless you were on the film festival circuit I don’t know where you would see them. So I had the idea of starting a festival to share with the community what they were helping me make and to bring independent film to the community.

That is how I started the festival in 2008, largely to give back to the community as well as to offer another opportunity to filmmakers because the film circuit is very tricky to get into and it took me a long time to get my films on the festival circuit. In 2008 we screened over 300 films. Part of my mission is to have it free to everyone. It’s a terrible business model but I want to stick to that.

In 2009 we grew a little and had more films and more filmmakers come. We are in our third year and the Convention Center was available and we could have everything under one roof. So many filmmakers come in from out of town as well as out of country and we can offer them all the amenities.

What is the best kept secret about SW Washington?

Is it a secret that we have the most amazing nature opportunities here? I’m obsessed with the gardening here.

If you didn’t live here, where would you live?

Somewhere where I can create. I am more interested in my community, the people around me, than the location.

What’s coming up that you are excited about?

Absolutely the Film Festival and getting to share so many amazing films with so many people. And especially the quality of filmmaking. We have amazing films from all over the world. We represent about 40 countries and really breathtaking storytelling, creative art films, great narratives and wonderful documentaries.

What would surprise people to know about you?

I started working in the industry as a child. Got my SAG card at age nine. Also, I make installations. I construct things. I like to make large pieces of art. I love glue and tape.

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August 10, 2010   5 Comments