I live in Phoenix, the 6th largest city in the United States. I have a husband and 4 kids, and we are literally a dot on map in this 517 square-mile city. I have the BEST community I could have hoped for. It didn’t just happen, and it certainly took time. Here are some things I did that I believe helped me build my community in this big city.
Smile and Learn Names. So you’re not good a names, that’s ok! Ask and ask again. I find that people don’t actually mind if you forget their name. I don’t mind if someone forgets my name. I also often forget their kids’ names. I just ask them to “Please remind me of your name again.” They always oblige and never frown about it. And I smile. I want to seem friendly because I am friendly. And I don’t mean you have to walk around with perma-smile, but a friendly smile goes a long way.
Read name tags of people who work where you frequent. The librarians wear name tags. The cashiers at Costco and Target wear name tags. The school secretary wears a name tag. Literally everywhere I go people are wearing name tags. I use their names whenever I can.
Be Intentional. I make a trip to Costco once a week with my 4-year-old and 3-year-old in tow. We are seriously a spectacle. For a while I went to whatever line was open when it was time to check out. Then I noticed that this pair of employees LOVED it when we came to their line. So now we do every week. We will even wait if their line is a bit longer. Mr. Leroy scans my stuff and Ms. Paula boxes it up and puts it in my cart. Their “Good morning, how are you?” isn’t standard. It’s familiar. They talk to the boys, comment on my purchases, and even know my schedule! One time I went in on a Monday when both boys are at school and they noticed I didn’t have them. They inquired and celebrated with me when I said I get a couple hours to myself on Mondays.
Use Social Media. Our neighborhood has a Facebook page and so does our elementary school. If I sign my kids up for a local city sport, I post about it on those pages to see if anyone else has a kiddo who might like to play. Then I get to meet the parents and my kid will actually know someone they are playing with, even if they aren’t best friends.
Let the Kids be an Ice breaker. People don’t always like talking about themselves, but people do love to talk about their kids. Ask them their names, ages, activities, likes, who their teacher is, who their teacher was, etc. What school do they go to? What club do they play soccer for? I am always searching for something we have in common that can bind us together.
MEET YOUR NEIGHBORS. It seems out of date, but my family always introduces ourselves to our new neighbors. I write a little “Welcome to the neighborhood” note card to them and include my address and phone number. I let them know I’m happy to help with anything (exterminator, pool guy, nearest grocery store) they might need. Then I be sure to encounter them again to check in. I might drop off treats, or coffee, or dinner. I can honestly say that I know all of my immediate neighbors, next door and across the street. I have their phone numbers. We look out for each other and they are a huge part of my community.
Don’t try to make everyone your new best friend. This post is about building community and with that comes friendship, but if that’s your sole goal you might be disappointed. Mr. Leroy at Costco is great, but he’s not my best friend. He knows me and I know him and I like feeling known and seen. Whenever I make it up to my kids’ school, I often see parents that I know (not my best friends). We get to chat and make small talk and I can leave the school feeling a part of the school community. We all want to be long somewhere and building your own community is a great place to start. Friendships will surely follow.