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‘The best part is the people’

At Charlestown, neighbors take time to get to know one another

Created date

September 1st, 2016
Sixth floor residents of Charlestown’s Brookside residence building: (back row, from left) Norma Files, Judy Brown, Tenney Brown, Eugene Gilhooly, and Ellen Morris; (front row, from left) Valerie Ponsini and Margaret Cutchins.

Sixth floor residents of Charlestown’s Brookside residence building: (back row, from left) Norma Files, Judy Brown, Tenney Brown, Eugene Gilhooly, and Ellen Morris; (front row, from left) Valerie Ponsini and Margaret Cutchins.

The advent of email, smart phones, and Facebook has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. But when it comes to getting to know our neighbors, most of us are out of touch. New data show Americans are less likely today than four decades ago to socialize regularly with their neighbors.

General Social Survey (GSS), an organization that collects information regarding the concerns, experiences, attitudes, and practices of U.S. residents, conducted the 2015 survey. It shows that in the 1970s, nearly 30% of Americans reported spending time with their neighbors at least twice weekly, while less than a quarter reported having no interactions with their neighbors. 

Over the past three decades, that number of interactions has trended downward. Today, nearly a third of Americans report no interactions with neighbors, and only about 20% say they spend time regularly with neighbors.

Another survey conducted that same year by the Pew Research Center indicates just half of Americans (52%) say they trust all or most of their neighbors, while 48% say they trust some or none of their neighbors.

Charlestown, a 110-acre Erickson Living community located in Catonsville, Md., is the exception to that rule. In a community of more than 2,000 people, you might think it would be impossible to get to know your neighbors. But residents like Vicki Barr will tell you it’s quite the contrary. 

Warm welcome

“The day after I moved in, my son was helping me unpack when I received an invitation to a party for that night,” says Vicki. “My son encouraged me to go, so I did. Everyone was so welcoming I felt like I was establishing friendships even though I had just met everyone.” 

The residents who call the sixth floor of Brookside, one of Charlestown’s residence buildings, home have been hosting get-togethers for the last ten years as a way to connect and develop relationships with their neighbors. 

“We always do something fun that’s geared toward getting to know one another,” says Valerie Ponsini. “For Christmas, we have a pot luck dinner, and everyone brings a dish. We sing songs and trim the tree. In the spring and fall, we usually do dessert and coffee. And in the summer, a gentleman on our floor throws a pizza party.”

Lauralee Whitmore and her late husband Charles organized the very first party nearly ten years ago. 

“My husband was very outgoing, and we developed friendships very quickly,” says Lauralee. “In fact, when we moved we already had friends living here, and we ended up on the same floor by chance. The parties have really been a great way to get to know neighbors and to continue to meet new people as they move in.”

With the exception of her son, who lives nearby in Severna Park, Ellen Morris didn’t know a soul when she moved from Florida seven years ago. Ellen hasn’t missed a party yet. 

“It’s a good time,” says Ellen. “In Florida, I lived in a condo right on Charlotte Bay, and I knew everyone. Charlestown is a friendly community, but it also depends on you. If you decide you want to be part of the community and meet people, it’s very easy to do. But if you want to keep to yourself, you can do that, too.” 

Friendly places, smiling faces

Pat and John Kasuda live on the second floor of Brookside, where neighbors hold their own get-togethers four times a year. 

“Everyone looks forward to it. It energizes folks and keeps us being good neighbors,” says Pat. 

The organizers establish a menu and provide a sign-up sheet for food and supplies. Sometimes, they opt to purchase prepared foods and then charge $5 per person.

“We always have food and plenty of it,” says Pat. “We do different themes like ‘Take me out to the ballpark (hotdogs),’ ‘Everybody’s birthday (lasagna),’ ‘Winter holidays’ (ham and all the trimmings), ‘Fall festival’ (sloppy joes), and on and on.”  

Games, jokes, door prizes, sing-alongs, and kazoo jam sessions help break the ice and form bonds between neighbors. 

“We just enjoy each other’s company and have fun together,” says Pat. 

For Vicki, the ease of living is what makes Charlestown a great place to live. But that’s not all. 

“There are so many advantages to living here,” she says. “But I think the best part is the people.”