It wasn’t until I had kids, that I saw the value in community.
At first, it was to integrate M + GL — introduce them to other kids, and socialize them into the neighborhood. But soon, I saw that it was just as beneficial (if not more) for me. By hanging out and getting to know other new moms, I found a support network along with an overall sense of camaraderie as we did our best navigating the crazy world of motherhood.
One of the first moms I met, Kira Wizner, is the gateway for many into our community. I remember moving into her building six years ago, and seeing her out front — I was pretty bogged down — GL was snuggled on my chest in the sling, and my hands were full of stuff. Kira kindly offered to help. But being new to the whole community thing, I politely declined…saying I was fine (I wasn’t!). As we said goodbye, she invited me to join her Mom’s night out.
Kira continues to be a mainstay in our community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And with winter approaching, it felt like a good time to talk to Kira about community since the inclination to stay indoors grows stronger, and the motivation to connect with others gets weaker.
EL: What does community mean to you?
KW: Community means understanding as much about the people and place around me as I can, and living in a way that keeps it thriving and if possible, enhances.
EL: Why have you taken such an active role in building our community on the Lower East Side?
KW: I love walking out my door and feeling part of the world. Knowing my neighbors has always been important to me, in every place I’ve lived. Because I had a new baby and wasn’t working when we moved here, a few of us connected and had to take very active steps to connect with other new parents and neighbors since we were all in that “new baby bubble”.
EL: How has our community changed since you first moved here, and how do you think that has happened?
KW: Since we’ve moved here, many more people in NYC have discovered our community. I think it used to fly under the radar since the buildings were so big and we are kind of off to the side, a bit of a walk from the subway. As prices all over the city have escalated, ours have stayed a bit more fair. Our community has attracted singles, couples, and families because of the people, parks, views of the river and I think because we can see the sky so clearly!
EL: What purpose does community have in your life? What benefits does it bring to you + your family?
KW: Understanding and taking responsibility for our space and the world around us is so important to me and as a mother modeling what life can be for my children. Life is filled with ups and downs and mistakes and success– our every day moments ground us. Saying hello to a friend, someone you just pass on the street, or picking up trash from the floor and throwing it out are grounding moments for me. All of us are on a continuum, baby, toddler, child, teen, all the way to seniors and beyond– to remind us all that we are part of a cycle feels good.
EL: What makes a strong community? What must its members do to uphold this?
KW: A strong community is full of people who feel responsible for taking care of themselves and the people and space around them, as they can. Members who do what they know is right as much as they can, rather than what’s convenient or might have a negative impact on someone else. When everyone in the community shows respect for everyone else– neighbors, porters, security guards, tourists, delivery people– people are happy to be here and happy to come back. That shows strength of character and a deep understanding of people and life. It’s not always smooth, things don’t always go our way, people don’t always live up to our standards, but to be compassionate brings me satisfaction.
EL: What is your advice to someone looking to become more involved in their community?
KW: When someone wants to be more involved, first I’d suggest to look at what structures already exist to support the community. From political (community board) to social (volunteering at the community center) if there is something that attracts you it will be fairly smooth to volunteer within an existing organization.
EL: What would you say to someone who is shy and/or reluctant to join a community?
KW: Some people have a lot going on with family or work or a relationship and may be reluctant to reach out to people because with connection always comes responsibility. I would say to start small– know your neighbors, say hi to the person in the elevator. Send an email about something that you’ve appreciated. Go to some kind of a community meeting once a year. And at each point in life we have different things to give– sometimes we have money, or time, and sometimes that seems overwhelming. But even a small donation can help someone and the feelings that come with giving can be wonderful.
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Elysha, I only discovered community when I had children too. My rural community differs from your urban one in form but not in function. I too started going to playgroups for my son, but quickly discovered the benefits for my own wellbeing. Those gatherings were vital for my sanity!
Sara, those early days with little ones are tough! The friends I made back then are still very dear to me now– we share such an incredible bond!