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Mom of four champions “Front-yard living”

Karen Schilstra has created a community where Thoroldites feel connected, cared for; safer

During the past year and a half, a caring group of Thoroldites has spread their simple message throughout the city.

Basically, it boils down to: "Love thy neighbour," and Karen Schilstra and her husband Terence encourage people to interact with, and help anyone who's in need in their Maitland Street neighbourhood.

Schilstra credits their friend, Hilda Vander Klippe, with initially establishing “Neighbourhood Hubs” in Thorold, Schilstra told ThoroldToday.

Both the Schilstras and the Vander Klippes have been instrumental in helping the city's impoverished, recently replenishing Community Care's shelves during their second annual Thorold food drive.

They feel that the time-honoured system of neighbours looking after one other will reduce isolation and ultimately make the city a network of safer, friendly neighbourhoods.

“Personally, I've always loved front-yard living; getting to know my neighbours,” said Schilstra. “I have four kids so it's important for me to know them and I wanted them to have some connection. We moved to our street a year ago and started it (a Neighbourhood Hub) on our street. We've gotten to know our neighbours and my kids know their names and have been playing with the other kids.”

Throughout the city, “It's a movement that's growing,” she explained.

“We are seeing more and more people who want to do one on their street. Every Hub is so different. Every neighbourhood is different. One lady is in an apartment and she slips letters under their doors. Hilda has a lot of kids in her Hub, so she plans around that. Perennials are passed back and forth in our Hub. There is no set formula. It's however they feel led to help.”

One Neighbourhood Hub in Confederation Heights offers help in sharing dog walking, home repairs, and babysitting services.

Currently, there's a Neighbourhood Hub on Albert Street, some in Confederation Heights; and “Probably 12 altogether,” Schilstra estimates; “16 hubs who haven't officially joined.”

“A lot of people are already doing this. They don't need a title. But if we know (Hubs exist) across our city and it connects people, they feel safer.”

According to Schilstra, social separation created by Covid-19 has demonstrated a dire need for the Hubs.

“Maybe a person just needs a friendly visit once a week. When Covid hit, we thought, Now is the time. We have more time on our hands, to create the Hubs. People are isolated and looking for connections.”

“I've met neighbours because of this pandemic more than ever before. As you strip away the school and work and church communities, let's socially distance on our front porch. I realize there are so many people who are lonely and just need someone to talk to. I think if we move from our back yards to our front yards, those needs could be met.”

She recalled when “A young man neighbour came to me and said, 'I'm doing something so old-school; I need to borrow a cup of sugar,' and we laughed.”

It's also a new way of thinking, she explained.

For example, a single mom could be struggling to cut her grass.

“We judge without knowing and say, 'What a mess'.'”

With the Neighbourhood Hub approach, “Instead, we say, 'I'm going to help cut her grass'.”

“As more people come to Thorold, wouldn't it be great to know we're so welcoming?”

“It becomes a whole city initiative. We hope a few years down the road, we'll have competitions,” she said, such as attempting to fill the most barrels for the food drive, or Christmas light contests.

“We have big dreams. It's just a way of life.”

For information on how to become a “Neighbourhood Champion,” and create a Hub in your area, email [email protected].

Or visit Thorold Neighbourhood Hubs on Facebook