“If you just get involved, your eyes begin to open and you see things in a different way,” says Good Neighbors Group co-founder, Julie Shay.
Shay started the Good Neighbors Group in 2006 after moving to Severna Park, a small suburb in Maryland a few years earlier. Looking for a way to be neighborly in her new community, she started creating relationships with locals and likeminded individuals looking to help people in a direct manner. It wasn’t long before Shay’s desire to get involved planted a seed of an idea that has since grown strong roots in a community connection project.
Through networking with individuals, partnerships with local businesses and a little word of mouth sharing, Good Neighbors Group is able to help donate people’s unwanted items to those in need. Every day, people throw out or store away countless items that could otherwise be donated. The Good Neighbors Group takes pride in its ability to reduce waste by establishing these connections within the community and getting what would otherwise end up in a landfill or never even used in the hands of those who truly need it. Shay posts items on the Good Neighbors Group website every month where interested parties can find out what items are needed.
For example, one local interior design business in Shay’s area had an abundance of discounted upholstery fabric sample books that the company was throwing away on a daily basis. The company agreed to donate the scrap fabric to the Good Neighbors Group where they have been given to Annapolis Gardens Boys and Girls Club, art groups, and others to use for art projects.
Good Neighbors Group also organizes a Grocery Program in which approximately 50 local families drop donated grocery items on Shay’s stoop each month for 25 local families who struggle to make ends meet. Groceries are sorted by a small group of volunteers, bagged in reusable grocery bags and delivered to a community center in Annapolis, where they are picked up by families. To identify families in need, Good Neighbor Group partners with We Care and Friends, a small, grass roots organization that helps people in the most desperate circumstances.
“My goal is to help someone up, not just help them out,” Shay said about the Good Neighbors Group. “Sometimes people end up in a tough spot and food stamps aren’t enough, or families are not yet tapped into certain resources, or those resources simply aren’t enough. We try to help in whatever way we can. In addition to supplemental groceries, we may circulate a resume, give information on local resources or provide mentoring.”
The next goal for the Good Neighbors Group is applying for a 501(c)(3) enabling the organization to gain some ground as a Nonprofit and eventually expanding their efforts to support other organizations and more importantly, Shay would like to see this “Charitable Craigslist” idea of sorts be applied in other communities initiating similar community service projects. Shay also believes that volunteerism is important for children to be comfortable with early in life. “When you look outside yourself to help someone else, you feel more fulfilled. Service gives life more meaning and it is especially important during adolescence as something that give young people purpose and satisfaction. Everyone wants to feel useful. When you help others, everyone’s lives are enriched.” Because many parents ask about way their children can be engaged in Good Neighbors Group projects, efforts are also underway to create a database of volunteer and charitable activities or projects that children or families can participate in.