Benton-Stephens president emphasizes social interaction

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 | 12:50 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — In his first annual State of the Neighborhood Address on Tuesday night at Benton Elementary School, Kip Kendrick praised the progress of his neighbors and development of his neighborhood while also urging Benton-Stephens residents to do more for their community.

Acknowledging the economic strain on the neighborhood, Kendrick, president of the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association, encouraged residents to continue building friendships in the community, helping each other, promoting the safety of their neighborhood and communicating with each other.

Kendrick emphasized social interaction as the most important component of a neighborhood.

“That is always my No. 1 goal,” he said.

Around 40 Benton-Stephens residents turned out for the address.

Beyond Benton-Stephens, Kendrick talked about the loneliness people commonly feel, even with others around. He stressed the importance of using diverse backgrounds and views to enrich communities, rather than divide them.

“A neighborhood can take away the feeling that you’re alone,” he said.

The neighborhood has held monthly coffee shops since November 2007 and potlucks since March 2007. An ongoing project for the community is its neighborhood garden.

Kendrick praised the garden as a way for the neighborhood to grow its own food, thereby saving money and eating healthily.

“I believe neighborhoods should be a place where people can find local food, where you can grow your food,” he said.

The MU organization Sustain Mizzou recently built a compost bin for the community garden, and the neighborhood has begun meeting with Benton Elementary to build raised beds for the students to grow food, Kendrick said. He said he hopes to get resident volunteers to work with the students and eventually expand the program to other schools.

Kendrick also praised Benton-Stephens’ “neighborhood swap” as another community-builder and money-saver. At December’s coffee shop, residents exchanged homemade products and services, including soap, paper, CDs, books, home repairs and snow removal.

“We’d been talking about it for a while and finally moved forward with this idea,” Kendrick said. “It was amazing to think that we have all these skills here and only this many people.”

Continually recognizing the difficult economy, Kendrick said crime, though likely to increase with the economic downturn, can be lessened through community cooperation.

“The best way to fight crime is to communicate,” he said. “And our response to crime is going to deter it. It’s going to be our best defense.”

Another issue he touched on was the lack of a sidewalk on East Walnut Street from Benton-Stephens to Stephens Lake Park. “With the amount of money spent on Stephens Lake Park, it’s disappointing that we don’t have a sidewalk,” he said. “It’s time we see a sidewalk put down. We will see it happen.”

Kendrick also discussed another spot in the neighborhood that’s dangerous for pedestrians: the intersection of Williams and Windsor streets, where he said he saw two children almost hit by a car. Kendrick said the city has agreed to do a traffic survey but wants to wait until spring to make any changes.

Despite those concerns, Kendrick kept his overall view of the neighborhood positive.

“It’s amazing the things we’ve been able to accomplish the last two years,” he said. “It’s not one person, it’s many people.”

Still, he challenged residents to become even more involved: “What if 100 people decided to stand up and take a leadership role? What if each one of us decided to be the change we want to see in the neighborhood?”

Again acknowledgingthe tough times, Kendrick pressed the importance of neighbors helping each other and the benefits they can bring by unifying, using their skills to provide for each other and working together.

“When you look broadly, it’s easy to be overwhelmed,” he said. “But when you start thinking neighborhood-first, then it’s easy to see how you can implement change in your life and in the neighborhood.”

Kendrick said he hopes to make the address an annual event.

“The idea of an address came to me as a way to share ideas and share what’s going on,” he said. “I just wanted to show people what all’s happening in the neighborhood and motivate people to get involved.”

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