Anne Slepian had been thinking about ways to get to know the neighbors in her town of Arlington, Massachusetts, but like most busy people, she found that the opportunities always seemed to slip away. Then one day, it occurred to her that the best way might be to share each other's hobbies, skills, and talents through a neighborhood bartering system.
Anne went door-to-door, sharing her brainstorm. "I took cues from what I saw," she says of her initial visits. "If there was a guitar in the background, I asked them if they'd be willing to give lessons. Some people had tools they were willing to lend. Or they said, 'I have little kids and I would love to exchange babysitting with somebody.'"
Eventually, Anne had a four-page list of names, phone numbers, and items, but she soon realized nobody was willing to use it. "People weren't going to give and receive with people they didn't know personally." Undeterred, she organized the first of what would be many neighborhood potluck dinners. Everyone who came wore a name-tag indicating one thing they wanted to swap. "Once people got to know each other," Anne says, "they were more inclined to call each other and say, 'Hey, I need help moving a couch.'"
Today, nearly 20 years later, Anne's neighborhood is thriving. She says the true beauty of the exchange is the close-knit, friendly community it helped to create. "The exchange and potlucks woo people who want to interact in a neighborly way. It means a lot to people," she says.
Continued on page 2: Community Cooperation