Do You Live in an Area You Love to Call Home?
Fairfax County Police Department
Do You Live in an Area You Love to Call Home?
When Cindi and Manny moved to Landsdowne in the early 1990s, they immediately liked the neighborhood. But something was missing. Neighbors did not really seem to know one another or interact much. The majority of the people who lived there did not get involved with making decisions that affected where they live. Cindi decided that they could make a difference, and perhaps create a small town feel where people really felt at home.
But how do you start from nothing and create something? How do you get your neighbors together and get them involved? Cindi noticed that a great number of residents have dogs, as did she. So she began walking around the neighborhood, introducing herself and meeting the residents and their pets. The Homeowners Association was like most, and took care of the business at hand in the standard way that most do. But now that residents were known, they began using an email system to reach out to residents. This proved to be much more effective (and less costly) then mailing or distributing flyers. They started a landscaping committee and made the appearance more attractive. People were informed and began feeling involved. The then agenda-driven HOA Board became an involved, community-centric one. Through their enthusiasm and support, new ideas took hold.
Landsdowne has a changeable sign. Instead of just announcing regular meetings, Cindi began changing it daily. Residents noticed it was different and relevant, and began walking their dogs and kids by it every day to get the new information. Some residents have been seen teaching their kids to read by looking at the sign while on their daily strolls. What did she post? “I have posted Happy Birthday messages to residents (by first name only of course), Welcome to the Neighborhood messages to new families who have moved in, and even a marriage proposal by request! That generated interest! Many people inquired if she said yes.” By the way, she did and the neighborhood was happy to congratulate them. The sign has also reflected what is going on in the world, wishing thoughts and prayers to the families of those forever changed at Virginia Tech a few years ago. To date, Cindi has posted over 5,000 messages in 6 years.
After creating a focal point that generated interest and conversation, it was time to start bringing people together. “Nice weather creates opportunities,” Cindi states as she smiles. Some things started as simple as advertising a “yappy hour”, for everyone to come out and bring their dogs to play. Naturally the whole families joined, and children played and made friends, bonding the families.
Manny, with his background of years in law enforcement decided this presented a great opportunity to raise interest in keeping the neighborhood safe and getting people to take an active role in helping. What does that mean? “It’s as simple as providing people the non-emergency dispatch number 703-691-2131 and asking them to call if they see something out of the ordinary while they are walking their dog”, Manny explains. “We let them know, they don’t have to talk to anyone who is a stranger to them or get “involved” with anything that appears wrong.” And indeed, Manny is right. The most common thing we as Fairfax County Police officers tell our citizens is that you know your neighbors and their habits better than we do. You know when it is not normal for someone you have never seen to be in their back yard. Please call us and let us know. That doesn’t mean we will tackle their Uncle Ed visiting from Toledo on sight. But we will introduce ourselves and make sure he is an invited guest, not an intruder. Please know we want you to make the call.
Did it help? Absolutely! This is an area where you don’t see graffiti, there aren’t abandoned cars left on the road. In fact, there are very few serious calls for service. It was exactly what Cindi and Manny had hoped for. Their community has an identity, and a tag line, “Landsdowne- the place we love to call home.” And they do. We have been invited to their community events and tons of residents are out and involved. They plan and participate in pool parties, barbeques, annual “Tent City- Camp Landsdowne” (an outdoor yearly sleepover), neighborhood shred days for old paperwork, and many more. Cindi explains that now that so many people are involved, she gets lots of calls with ideas for new events. They are always open to creative ways to bond the community, and assisting with new ideas. Last year officers and detectives of the Franconia District Station participated in a Walk & Talk with this community. It was a very casual way for us to get to speak with the residents, who were welcoming and happy to live there.
I asked if there were ever difficult times. “Sure, not all events have been successful”, she admits. “We found that sometimes with potlucks, or wine tastings, people have remained with their usual groups of friends and have not met other people.” But they were not discouraged, they just plugged away and planned the next event and hoped for the best. And it paid off. Their events are so popular that people who do not live in the area show up and participate, often commenting that they wish their neighborhood was like this one.
So I asked Cindi and Manny, what’s the secret? What tips would you offer to someone who wants to see their neighborhood become its own “small town.” Introduce yourself, walk dogs with a neighbor and talk, welcome new residents, be enthusiastic and creative, start a website for your community. Cindi adds, “Some events won’t interest some of the people, but the next event might, so be open to different things.”
We encourage you to join your community’s Neighborhood Watch. If it does not exist, start one! If you would like more information, please email our Crime Prevention Officer, Jim Reid at FranconiaStationCPO@fairfaxcounty.gov. You can also find more information on our website at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/stations/franconia/. Be sure to view the information in the Crime Prevention Corner section marked Franconia Station Flyers. There is an excellent Introduction to Neighborhood Watch brochure available, as well as educational information about Solicitor laws and other helpful tips. We also encourage you to sign up for regular email alerts from our Officer Reid reference crime in the community and prevention advice, and we look forward to hearing from you.
To request this information in an alternate format, call the Franconia District Station at 703.922.0889. TTY 711