Every day, neighbors across America are taking steps to help foster a stronger sense of community in their neighborhoods, whether that’s planning a block party, leading a neighborhood-wide clean-up, or even heading online to build community on their neighborhood’s Nextdoor website.
In our Neighborhood Leaders series, we’re sitting down with the folks across the country who are making a difference. In our last installment, we connected with George Poppenwimer, Lead of Nextdoor Solivita in Kissimmee, FL. Today, we’re chatting with Jane Loyless, Lead of Nextdoor Hillbrook Forest in Spartanburg, SC.
For Jane Loyless, working on computers and building community online is nearly second nature.
An IT professional since the early 1970s, Jane has touched almost all aspects of both hardware and software. She’s written code, debugged programs, upgraded systems, handled hardware, and managed office software for companies large and small. Many might assume that kind of background would prime Jane to be the neighborhood expert on everything from troubleshooting software to helping neighbors with frozen laptops. However, she took a different path: using technology to help build local community.
“I’ve been into forum moderation and community building for years and years,” Jane says. “It’s what I love to do.”
It all began when Jane was in the middle of her career, traveling around the country on business to help corporations set up their internal networks and use personal computers to get work done. Jane was issued an IBM ThinkPad to take on the road, which was far ahead of its competitors at the time in terms of speed, performance, and even weight. She fell in love with the ThinkPad and soon began to volunteer moderate forums for IBM.
“I was instantly drawn to Nextdoor because I’m geared towards forums,” Jane says. “Most people I’ve connected with on forums are worldwide, but this is my neighborhood. That was just incredible to me.”
Jane joined her neighborhood’s Nextdoor website right around the time when Nearby Neighborhoods were added. That, she said, was a defining moment for the community.
“I sat up and said, gosh, now we can have a network,” she remembers. “I see it as a honeycomb. All of our neighborhoods are adjacent to each other and connecting. It had been nice before, but it was fantastic from then on.”
The neighborhood quickly took to Nextdoor to plan events. Within a year of starting their Nextdoor website, the neighborhood hosted a cookout with over 50 people, which was large for the community at the time. When the day rolled around for the party, the skies opened up and the rain began to pour down – a fact, Jane says, that did not deter the group from getting together and enjoying the afternoon.
“We had a couple of pop-up tents for the food to go under, and people brought umbrellas and lawn chairs. It was wonderful. When I saw one person with a dish of food in one hand and an umbrella in another, laughing and chatting away, I thought – this is going to work!”
In the years since, the neighborhood has lost and found “about a thousand cats.” They’ve also used used Nextdoor to share advice and recommendations, discuss local topics of interest, and help deter crime in the community. Now, the neighborhood has over 880 members, and is growing steadily all of the time.
“We’ve done some incredible things,” Jane shares. Neighbors used Nextdoor to discover an elderly neighbor was being targeted by tree trimmers who were collecting money upfront and not completing their work. Together, neighbors organized to call the police, help their neighbor file a report, and even organized interviews for the local news station to make sure others didn’t fall victim to the same scheme.
And yet not even that wasn’t enough. One neighbor was a landscaper, and volunteered to bring over all of his equipment and clean up the mess after the scammers had left.
“They’d cut down her trees and just walked away,” Jane recalls. “He cleaned it all up, and he did that for free and took care of it for her. He read her story on Nextdoor and just wanted to take care of it. It was heartwarming, how everyone came together to help her.”
That strong sense of community has only grown over the years. Jane says that Nextdoor has brought the entire neighborhood together.
“I recognize people’s names, and I’ve certainly met more people than I ever would have met in the normal course of things,” she says. “We stop and talk to each other in the grocery store, now. Before, most of the neighborhood only knew a very small circle of people near their houses. We all know each other so much better now.”
For other Leads, Jane recommends developing a thick skin – something that she learned early on in her years of moderating online forums.
“It’s good to have that knowledge, that access to information, and to be a resource,” Jane says. “Everyone has their gift for how they give back to the community, my gift is my experience in moderating forums and bringing people together online, whether they’re halfway around the world or down the street from me.”
Join your neighborhood on Nextdoor here.