Earlewood, one of Columbia’s oldest neighborhoods, is working to establish a new sense of community. The neighborhood’s quality of life committee and a bar owner who lives in Earlewood are helping residents get to know each other over a beer.
By Kathryn Duggan
April 7, 2014
(Updated April 9 to correct that Brunson is head of the communications committee not the quality of life committee and to clarify that the events began in 2011 and are still sometimes held at The Whig.)
Breathe in, and the scent of warm bread fills the air. Follow the laughter, and you’re likely to run into a group of Earlewood residents drinking, eating, laughing and smiling at Kelly’s Deli and Pub.
The restaurant is downtown. But owner Kelly Whitlock lives in Earlewood, and once a month Kelly’s becomes a part of one of Columbia’s oldest and largest neighborhoods. As neighbors share good times, sometimes grabbing the microphone for a karaoke rendition of Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston, the neighborhood’s quality of life committee is using such events to help bring together an area where the residents range from college students to those in their 90s.
The goal, says neighborhood communications committee head Perrin Brunson, who helps organize the Night’s Out, is to create a comfortable and fun atmosphere so people can meet outside of “the neighbor yelling at you to control your dog.”
Voluntary associations are one way of promoting cohesion in new neighborhoods or where a lot of people are moving in and out, said Eugene Litwak, a retired Columbia University sociology and sociomedical sciences professor who has studied neighborhood cohesion and related health effects.
Earlewood’s quality of life committee seems like a good illustration of this, he said.
The committee hosts informational meetings, holiday parties, National Night Out, and the monthly event at Kelly’s for the neighborhood, which covers an area roughly bounded by the Broad River, River Drive, Sunset Drive, North Main Street and the CSX railroad tracks.
“Our goal is to leave residents saying, ‘Damn, I missed the neighborhood meeting,’” Brunson said. “We strive to find different ways to engage all of the types of residents.”
Sidney Brower, an American Planning Association member, said such gatherings give people an opportunity – as well as an excuse – to meet one another and interact as well as identify serious neighborhood issues. One of the APA’s goals is to help communities establish and strengthen themselves.
“This type of committee provides a different attraction, which is a feeling of belonging,” Brower said.
Whitlock said she loves having her neighbors come to the bar where she can proudly introduce them to customers. She said she is busy with work but that her neighbors’ making time to come to the bar has made her want to volunteer more to help out in the neighborhood.
The social gatherings are partly the result of Earlewood’s attracting younger residents. Haynes said the older neighborhood association members welcomed the help of a younger crowd and the changes they wanted to bring about, but that to attract younger residents, the association had to plan fun activities.
The monthly nights at the bar, which are in addition to the neighborhood association’s quarterly meetings, are an effort to focus less on informational meetings and more on social ways to deliver information while encouraging neighbors to meet, neighborhood association president Rebecca Haynes said. The nights out began about three years ago at The Whig, another downtown bar, when its owner lived in Earlewood, but have shifted more to Kelly’s since The Whig’s owner moved from the neighborhood, Brunson said.
One byproduct is an active social media presence, much of it focused on keeping the neighborhood safe. An active neighborhood crime watch often generates posts on social media. Neighbors share warnings of stormy weather, and if a neighbor’s dog goes missing, all it takes is one post to organize a search party, Haynes said.
“We enjoy knowing all of our neighbors on a first-name basis,” said Kenny Lee, who has lived in Earlewood for four years. Lee said he likes the neighborhood because it is quiet and peaceful and yet its residents are very involved.
“It’s funny,” said Kelli Wukella, secretary of the neighborhood association, known as the Earlewood Community Citizens Organization. “I realize now that I see some of my neighbors more than my parents.”
Wukella said that before the social events she had found it difficult to connect with her neighbors at strictly informational meetings because she had to take notes the whole time. She’s now a regular at the monthly nights out.
“It’s nice to have a place to get together and share ideas without structure,” she said.
Listen as Rebecca Haynes, Earlewood Community Citizens Organization president, describes how the Nights Out Event draws from surrounding neighborhoods as well.
Hear Perrin Brunson, head of the communications committee, describe how the Nights Out Event started.
Listen to Kelly Whitlock, owner of Kelly’s Deli and Pub, describes how it makes her feel that neighbors support her business and how it has helped her become more involved.
Some networking also goes on. Haynes, the neighborhood association president, said she helped someone she got to know at the monthly events get a job.
Haynes and Brunson both said they encourage people outside of Earlewood to participate and that some do.
“It’s silly to say that somebody on this side of this block is this neighborhood and this other side of the same block is another neighborhood, because we are all so close to each other,” Brunson said.
If Earlewood can help people in other neighborhoods connect, Haynes said, “then all the better.”
“So I think it’s been kind of fun opening up to the community as a whole and not being so strict on where you live,” she said, “and that has been a good addition.”
National Neighborhood Association: The NNA is a community of neighborhood associations that discuss solutions to common problems and work together to ensure safety for their neighborhoods.