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A Word from Our Staff

Why I love Long Beach: Our House in the Middle of our Street

Posted by Laurie OToole on

Laurie shares her experience with neighborhood gatherings and why she is hosting a We Love Long Beach breakfast. 

My house has history. It has been passed down from my grandfather, to my mom, to me, and one day it will be passed to my son. It is fun to look at old pictures and realize that my family has been taking photos together in the same spot in the back yard for, literally, generations.  It’s also sweet to remember that my family’s connection to our neighborhood has been important since the house was first built on this street.

My grandparents came to California to be a part of the war effort in the 1940's and both got jobs at the ship yards in Long Beach.  The Carson Park neighborhood had just been built on sprawling bean fields when my grandfather bought our home. Once the block had been built up, he realized other men in the neighborhood also worked in the ship yards. So they pooled their funds to buy a car among themselves to commute to the port each day, enabling them to leave the family cars home with the wives. At that time neighbors were more than just neighbors.

Fast forward many decades. When my husband, son, and I moved into the family home about 14 years ago, it was a blessing to get to know some of those same neighbors who knew also had known my grandparents and parents.  But as people have come and gone in the neighborhood, it has taken effort to get to know new people and make new connections. Let me just say, we definitely weren’t sharing ownership in a communal car! : )

However, about 10 years ago, Bethany encouraged us all to do something to bless our neighbors on Halloween. I took the challenge seriously. So on Halloween, we passed out candy from our front yard, where we also had refreshments for the grown ups and a warm, welcoming fire pit for neighbors to gather around. It was a new beginning.

Party House!

I will tell you that those first steps of getting to know people on my block were nerve wracking. It was not my natural instinct to knock on someone’s door and ask them to come to my front yard for a meal. “What if they don’t come? What if they don’t like me? What if we have nothing to talk about?” Those are all genuine fears. But because my pastor encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, I took those first awkward steps toward getting to know my neighbors.

Let me tell you the difference it has made. From that first Halloween gathering, we made an annual tradition of an October Chili Cook-off, where we gather in my driveway to eat chili and chips and just enjoy each other’s company. Everyone brings something to share and each year, a new family or two joins us. Everyone leaves saying “We have to do this again.”

So we then started a “Back to School Bonfire” where families on the block came with their kids to roast marshmallows and toast the end of summer. It is so great to host this with our next door neighbors who share our driveway, as well as a love for our gatherings. 

Then, three years ago, one family on our block decided they wanted to host as well so they started a neighborhood Christmas Caroling Party. This year was our third annual caroling party and the biggest attended yet. As we walked around the block, little ones ringing doorbells, and the rest of us caroling (terribly, I must admit!), neighbors from the other side of the block asked how they could be a part of our party next year.

It's Contagious!

Guess what?!? Neighborliness is contagious!

When we do these events, I usually do them in my front yard. Why? Is it because I don’t have to clean my house?!? (Shhh! Maybe… but don’t tell!) An even more important reason is that it allows for people in the neighborhood to walk by and join us. While some of my neighbors may have originally declined the invitation, once they saw so many people sitting in the front yard, enjoying each other’s company, they wanted to come and join the fun. There was no need to knock on a door to ask permission to enter. Nor was there any commitment to stay. Just come as you are and leave when you want.

There is nothing earth shattering about knowing your neighbors. But it is the stuff of life. Because we know our neighbors… I mean really know them… we have begun to share life together. We gather together to help those in need on the block. We look out for each other’s kids. We are our own neighborhood watch. We laugh together. We cry together. We celebrate each other’s accomplishments and mourn with each other’s losses. All because we gathered around the table together.

Are we perfect? No. Do we all come from the same backgrounds? Absolutely not! Do we all share the same religious or political beliefs? No way! Does everyone on the block participate all the time? Not always. Are there days when being neighborly seems like too much effort. Yeah, honestly, sometimes.

This is the Life!

But as a block, we are truly learning to live life in community… which opens the doors for real and meaningful conversations with each other. Which is a lot better (but also a lot more messy) than just a wave as I pull in the driveway and lock the door behind me.

So, let me encourage you, will you consider taking a step toward hosting a block party?  If you live in Long Beach, one very easy way to start is to join Bethany and We Love Long Beach for the Citywide Breakfasts on January 25. If you register by January 18, We Love Long Beach will give you an entire kit to help make it happen, including invitations, name tags, helpful hints, a gift card, and a host gift. It couldn’t be easier! (Click here to sign up today.)

I signed up this week. I’m going to do a very simple coffee & pastry breakfast, again in the front yard. I’m still nervous. But I’m excited. In fact, even as I write this now, I have texted some of my neighbors to save the date. In the text thread, one of our neighbors responded by asking if, at that breakfast, we could discuss planning a 4th of July block party. It’s fun to think we are doing life together.

It may not be perfect, but I love my house; I love my neighborhood; and I love my neighbors.

This is the life…

The life Jesus calls us to live.

"And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:30-31

 You can sign up today to host/co-host a breakfast in your neighborhood on Saturday, January 25. Go to welovelb.org to register before January 18.

Also, PLEASE let me know you are hosting and share with us your stories and pictures. Let’s celebrate our community together!