In the June 2017 issue, I wrote an editorial to challenge Hollywood Gazette readers to share a meal with a neighbor. Preferably someone they hadn’t gotten to know yet or wanted to know better.

I grew a little disenchanted after a couple of weeks passed when I didn’t hear from anyone– until I received the best response I could hope for from Hollywood Hills resident Stephanie Walsh.

She wrote, “This year my husband Matt, our 2 year old son Jack; I moved to Hollywood, Florida from Kansas City, Missouri where I was born and raised. After getting settled and meeting a few of our neighbors in passing with general greetings and introductions, we started missing the comforts of knowing everyone on our block, their families and the occasional borrowing of a ladder, sharing a cup of coffee or sugar in a pinch.

After reading your article in the Hollywood Gazette, I was excited to accept the challenge! Jack and I put an invitation together inviting everyone on our block over for a potluck BBQ. We went door to door which made me nervous! I figured at minimum a few people we’d met in passing would stop by and say hello. What I didn’t expect was for 30 people to show up side dishes in hand! I couldn’t believe it! Almost all of our neighbors came!

People shared countless tips for fun in the sun with our little one, area favorites, and a few stories of their unique cultural backgrounds. It’s interesting that very few people that we’ve met were born and raised in Florida. Most, like me are transplants. Connecticut, Cuba, Dominica, Israel, Arizona, Arkansas, Haiti and of course Missouri were just a few of the diverse backgrounds that all came together in our kitchen!

Our block looks so different to me now. What once looked like a simple block of houses is now a thriving and welcoming community of friends.

After doing this for over a decade and in the age where elected officials at the highest level refer to the media as the “enemy of the people,” it’s easy to feel underappreciated sometimes. But Stephanie’s letter absolutely moved me to tears. Not only did she take the challenge, she brought her entire block together!

I am issuing the same challenge again this month.  If you complete the challenge and send me your story, I will share it online and in the paper to inspire the community. Even if your story is that you thought about it, but you didn’t work up the courage, I’d still love to hear from you.

I went to visit Stephanie and her family this past Sunday and met some of her neighbors in the above photo. I was greeted with a warm hug and cold water.

Turns out many of the neighbors on this particular block have been pretty tight-knit for years.  I met Don and Jo Kneuer who have been happily married almost 39 years! I learned that Don has in impressive miniature model train collection and that if Jack doesn’t have his nap by 2 or 3 p.m., he’s pretty unhappy about it. As I left, I was offered an avocado from one of their trees which I happily took home to enjoy.

After travelling to the Middle East this past June, I assert that face-to-face communication is the most important way for folks to connect, create community and foster cooperation.  And while sometimes it may seem we’re more divided than ever, I know in my heart we have more in common than than those who seek to divide us would want for us to believe.

Connected communities come together and offer support in times of trouble; they strengthen the fabric of the city we love.   

“Having old friends is the politics of last resort,” notes author and historian Timothy Snyder in his latest book. “And making new ones is the first step toward change.”

If you take the challenge, email me at jennifer@hollywoodgazette.com.   I look forward to hearing about your experience no matter how it goes.