Amazingly quickly, starting around March 23, Kendal developed “neighborhoods,” with “group leaders” for each. The neighborhoods have been active in various ways in making sure people stay in touch with each other and in keeping us all entertained and safe.

So how did this new structure come about? A resident, Rex du Pont, recognized the need and took the initiative. The Web Group, of which Rex is a member, was interested in what could be done to “maintain our sense of community while ‘social distancing’ and self-isolation are best practice,” in the words of another member, Betty Warner, writing on March 15. It was clear that the website could be helpful, but what about the people without web access?

Over the next few days, Rex considered the possibility of organizing into neighborhoods. He checked with the members of the Kendal Residents Association executive committee (he’s a member of that, too), and everyone thought it was a good idea and encouraged him to go ahead.

Betty provided a potential list, organized around the parking lot used by each cottage. On consideration, though, the lists of cottages served by lots 8, 9, and 10 seemed too long to be the basis for neighborhoods. Rex reworked the lists, came up with potential names of neighborhood leaders, and on March 23 he sent out emails soliciting interest. That was well received, but it also generated a variety of requests for changes to neighborhood boundaries.

Within a few days, 11 neighborhoods were established, each with one or two leaders.

Getting in touch. The first task for the leaders was to get in touch with all their designated “neighbors”. For a majority of residents, that was readily done with an email message. But many residents don’t use email, and the group leaders contacted them by phone. This process established contacts among people who, in some cases, may have seen each other but had never talked.

I know, from my experience in this process, that some folks who were feeling isolated and out of touch were delighted to have this kind of contact. I suspect other neighborhood leaders had the same experience.

In the case of our particular neighborhood, one of the first activities that engaged multiple people was an email discussion of what our neighborhood should be called. (Arlene Rengert provided a blog post about this.) We haven’t yet reached consensus on a name, but we are enjoying the discussion.

In other neighborhoods, there has been sharing of jokes and poems. One neighborhood shared pictures of birds and butterflies currently seen on campus.

Providing masks. The first project that involved all the neighborhoods in a coordinated effort was providing masks. On April 4, our Medical Director, Dr Lawrence, advised that “a face mask be worn outside when around other people.” But most of us didn’t have face masks.

Even before Dr Lawrence made his request, residents had already begun a mask-making project, and the request attracted additional people to the project. (The mask-making project will be the subject for another post.) Rex was asked to collect from the neighborhood leaders a count of masks needed and lists of who needed them, and that became the first campus-wide project of the neighborhood initiative.

By April 8, all the information had been collected (and tabulated by Susanna Davison) and the masks were then distributed.

Within its first two weeks, the ”neighborhood” concept has already shown its value. It has filled part of the information vacuum left from the loss of the bulletin boards and mail boxes at the Center (especially for those without web access) and it has brought residents closer together. In the case of the mask effort, it has also proved to be a valuable mechanism for gathering information from every member of the community in a time of crisis, something that would otherwise be very hard to accomplish.

In closing, Rex wanted me to make sure I added a big “thank you” from him to all the group leaders for their work.