On a sunny evening in early May, SanDee Skelton led her neighbors in a socially distanced outdoor dance session.
The 82-year-old has been teaching dance classes for more than 50 years in the community, and she wasn’t going to let something like a pandemic slow her down. So she distributed handbills around her block, and people came out and danced along with her from the fronts of their own houses.
Skelton, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, is on the steering committee for nonprofit Matthew 25’s Healthy Time Check project. And this is exactly the kind of effort the project hopes to promote.
The project is an overarching effort that includes elements like working with the city on bike lanes, housing on lots left empty after the 2008 floods and more, all with the goal of creating a healthier neighborhood.
“The goal is to take the Time Check area, especially the southern half that has been probably struggling the most with recovery ever since the flood, and help it move to better health,” said Matthew 25 Director Clint Twedt-Ball.
One component of that is the Front Yard Club, which encourages people to spend more time in their front yards, meeting and socializing with their neighbors.
Matthew 25, which has a long history of community building in the neighborhood, has encouraged that with giveaways of Adirondack chairs and garden beds, which it donates to people to place in their front yards. The hope is people will interact with each other more, leading to a stronger, healthier community overall.
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“It’s unusual for people to have gardens in their front yards. You can see these, they attract kids and neighbors,” Twedt-Ball said. “I think the old school idea was we did neighborhood watch where you’re looking for bad actors. I think the newer way of doing that is to say if there are more people out interacting and on the streets and paying attention to what’s going on, they can do it in a much more positive way, where they’re looking out for their neighbors rather than a vigilant way where they’re looking for bad stuff.”
Along with the garden boxes and chairs, the nonprofit started a closed Facebook group where neighbors post things they’re doing. Things like the outdoor dance lessons.
Those efforts started long before the coronavirus pandemic led to social distancing and staying home, but Skelton said they’re more important than ever now.
“People are looking forward to being able to get out in the fresh air, move around and do things, and that’s a start,” she said. “It’s nice to be out where you can see other people, maybe shout across the street, ‘How are you doing?’ and ask what they’re growing. It gets the neighborhood socializing and getting to know one another and sharing.”
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