Turning Strangers in Neighbors

September 16, 2015

The Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative joins the forces of six local nonprofit organizations in using the humanities to advance civic engagement in West Scranton. One of the crucial questions facing this group–and the West Scranton neighborhood–is how to bring residents together around a sense of community.

It’s a question that Jesse J. Ergott had considered extensively before the nonprofit organization he leads, NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania, joined the Collaborative. NeighborWorks had been working in West Scranton for more than a year through its Home Matters Repair Initiative, which enlists local volunteers to provide no-cost home repairs to elderly, disabled, and modest-income residents in Lackawanna County. 

One of NeighborWorks’ aims is to bring the “neighbor” concept back into the community. This aim connects well with the humanities-based approach of the Collaborative to create opportunities for residents to affirm shared values and experiences and encourage dialogue on the path to a stronger community.

In particular, Ergott feels that the Collaborative’s project to bring West Scranton residents together around planning pocket parks provided a concrete next step for engaging people who had benefitted from Neighbor Works’ efforts.

“The pocket parks provide a reason for people to get together and talk about what they want their community to be. They will also provide a space for them to continue gathering,” said Ergott.

To illustrate his point, Ergott shared a story about a woman named Agnes, whose house was chosen by NeighborWorks to be painted and repaired for free. Even though Agnes has lived in her house for more than 30 years, she’s met many of her current neighbors only recently. For years Agnes had avoided contact with the community because she felt embarrassed by the state of her home. But once her house was repaired and painted, she began to spend time sitting on her porch, talking with people, and she began attending events and meetings in the neighborhood.

“Sometimes people on the receiving end of service think, ‘These volunteers gave me so much. What can I do now to give back?’ Ergott said. He is hopeful that the work of the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative will continue to provide residents like Agnes with ongoing links to the community.

“It brings people together who had no reason to come together previously,” he said. “For a neighborhood like West Scranton, a project like this really represents hope.”

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