By Jane Seiss
“Small efforts can make a big difference,” Julie Shay says.
Shay is the cofounder of a thriving grass-roots community organization. Founded in 2006 in response to local need, Good Neighbors Group (GNG) is a collaboration of greater Severna Park residents. Members participate in a grocery donation program, respond to calls for need of unwanted household items, and provide other support whenever they can.
GNG is run by Shay, who is a resident of Severna Park. After noticing need in the community, she thought a group of friends and neighbors could do something to make a difference. Her efforts were successful, and from there the Good Neighbors Group was born. “A key message GNG promotes is the difference individuals can make,” Shay said. Her work facilitates helping others in straightforward and direct ways.
After a few years of running the group, Shay’s contact list has grown, and GNG has become a trusted clearinghouse for helping those in need. There are more than 200 people that Shay regularly reaches with calls for help. Organizations and community members contact Shay when they know of a need; she then calls on her network of concerned citizens and a connection is made.
Recently, the group succeeded in securing a refrigerator and microwave for a local family, as well as connecting a mom in need of morning childcare with a reliable family who could serve her. The group also managed to get an available hospital bed to a family that could use it.
GNG’s grocery program receives contributions from 50 families. Every month, participating families provide about $5 of essentials from a list Shay distributes. Items may include food staples or hygiene items. The goods are given to We Care and Friends in Annapolis and are given to 24 needy families.
Shay considers the grocery program an easy way to give people a little boost. “The recipients ask very little,” she said. “They are very thankful for the help. GNG makes the community feel smaller; it helps people feel less isolated.”
GNG focuses on two main areas. “We try to reduce waste by connecting people with local individuals in need,” Shay explained. “We also assist businesses in recognizing waste, how to reduce it, and how to direct usable items to creative outlets.”
To encourage recycling within local businesses, Shay recently approached Karen Renee Interior Design in Severna Park about its fabric sample booklets. The company had dozens of upholstery books that it no longer needed. Shay happily loaded them into her station wagon and found worthy opportunities for reuse. The Anne Arundel County Public Schools visual arts department took 15 boxes of the books for future use in art classes and Annapolis Gardens Boys and Girls Club received a carload. “Karen Renee was pleased to contribute to the community,” said Shay.
Shay is ready to move forward with GNG’s growth. She is working toward establishing the group as a 501c3 nonprofit corporation. She is also looking for office space that would include storage for donated items and a meeting room to facilitate her efforts. Future plans include charitable get-togethers to support local needs, creating education opportunities using repurposed items, creating and maintaining a database with profiles of local organizations, and connecting youth to community service projects.