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Block leaders sought for caring program

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star

Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County is hot on the search for help, hoping to recruit 50 new block leaders throughout the month of September.

Through Community Renewal's main goal — restoring community through intentional relationships — the position Block Leaders hold is crucial. Block leaders are local residents trained by Community Renewal to volunteer in their own neighborhoods by not only getting to know their neighbors, but helping their neighbors get to know each other.

“Neighborhoods with connected neighbors are statistically safer, healthier and have better outcomes for children regardless of other demographics,” Director of Neighboring Zoe Loeser said.

Block leaders work to improve the culture of connection in their neighborhood by being “Big” for five to 15 households — being visible to, interacting with and gathering their neighbors.

At a Block Leader hub meeting this month, Phyllis Bolt hands out boxed meals to fellow Block Leaders Connie and Craig Walker.

The nonprofit has made great strides to be sure, but is nowhere near the goal it has set for itself.

Right now, 163 trained block leaders are actively being Big in their neighborhoods in Shawnee and Pottawatomie County, but many more block leaders are needed.

“Our long-term goal is to have one block leader for every fifteen households in Pottawatomie County so that every household would have a block leader taking care of their neighborhood,” Loeser said.

That means we need 900 block leaders in Shawnee and 1000 in greater Pottawatomie County, she said.

Just because the COVID-19 pandemic has forced some level of separation doesn't mean relationships have to diminish. If anything, recognizing that bonding with others has become even more important during the crisis.

Block Leader Tammie Zuker presents a neighbor with a “Caught You Caring” sign to celebrate an act of care she witnessed in her neighborhood recently.

Kelsey Hart did something about it. She joined recently as a block leader.

“Because I'm an introvert and a socially awkward person, I need help,” Hart said.

She said Community Renewal gives her the resources and the knowledge to assemble people to hang out.

“I need other people who aren't blocked by their own self to help me push through barriers,” she said.

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Steve Reese, serving as a block leader since mid-2017, said learning and sharing with this growing hub of volunteers makes him feel more invested in his neighborhood, and in turn, his whole community.

“We believe that anyone seeking intentional relationships in their neighborhoods is capable of joining us in this work,” the Block Leader’s manifesto reads. “None of us are perfect people: much the opposite. We celebrate our humanity with its weaknesses and flaws. It guides us towards engaging with other people so that we may be stronger together.”

For more information or to sign up to become a block leader, visit communityrenewal.org/BL.