“Right now there’s no cohesiveness, and a neighborhood association offers that togetherness — and people have got a place to reach out if they need something,” Yager said.
“If we had that big summer barbecue like we used to have, people can get to know each other, and that’s what neighbors are for — ‘Can you look after my kids?’ or ‘Can you mow my lawn, because I’m 84 years old?’ — I want to get that community feel back,” she said.
Vancouver is home to 67 officially recognized neighborhood associations; more than 90 percent of the city’s residents live in one. Forest Ridge is one of seven associations that are officially inactive, meaning the city hasn’t heard from them in at least a year. It’s also the only one currently working to restart.
Yager isn’t exactly an unbiased source. She was president of the association before it dissolved. Yager said she stepped down from the neighborhood association after starting a family and working full time.
Neighborhood associations are entirely volunteer run, and, for that reason, they depend on their participants to keep them alive — something not necessarily easy for busy people.
“There can be an ebb and flow to the organization, because they’re all-volunteer and it depends if folks in the neighborhood want to step into the leadership positions,” said Judi Bailey, neighborhoods coordinator for the city of Vancouver.
Although interest waned enough for the association to go inactive, Yager said she has a knack for motivating people, and she thinks she can spur them into action.
Her friend and neighbor, Galina Burley, who contacted the city about restarting the association and booked the Oct. 18 meeting, was a neighborhood coordinator for the city of Vancouver about two decades ago.
Burley said she found a place to meet and contacted the city about restarting the group. The city then sent a postcard to everyone in her neighborhood informing them about it and inviting them to attend.
Burley said she looks forward to those communal benefits that come with being in regular contact with neighbors — hearing about crime, looking after one another’s kids or helping with each other’s yard work — but she’s also eager to enjoy the support the city provides. Now the question is how many of her neighbors feel the same.
“If they’re interested in reviving the neighborhood, and we’ll go from there,” she said.
“Being organized and being able to talk to one another — for example: someone hit my car and they didn’t leave a name — we could let each other know about that kind of stuff, or if there’s crime, or if the city wants to propose something, like rezoning,” she said. “More community engagement, knowing neighbors, makes sense because you feel safer in your neighborhood.”
Besides building stronger ties with people who live in the area, neighborhood associations help residents create a relationship with the city that has tangible benefits.
“It becomes a partnership with the city of Vancouver,” said Bailey.
If a neighborhood association is new, members choose their boundaries and a name and write them into their bylaws. That information is then sent to the city council to be recognized. But most every part of Vancouver already has an established association.
Once an association is established, the city offers a cleanup day every year, where people can bring trash to a given location and have it hauled away for free. If a neighborhood is planning a picnic, the city will lend tables and has barbecues available for rent. Associations can also get the city’s assistance in drafting action plans and advocate for projects to be prioritized around the neighborhood — like the installation of speed cushions on busy streets.
Additionally, the city will help with communications, print their newsletters, help them find places to meet and send a liaison to attend meetings.
“It’s great way for us to out reach to specific areas,” Bailey said. “For instance, the summer pavement work, our folks were able to reach out to the neighborhoods where the work was being done and give them information.”
The benefits don’t come solely from the city, either. The local nonprofit the Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington offers matching grants of up to $2,000 to neighborhood associations to improve their immediate environment.
The organization’s executive director, Sunrise O’Mahoney, said the monies have paid for everything from dog waste stations in parks, native plant and tree plantings, tree of heaven and black locus removal and more.
“We still have a lot of money to give away, so we’re encouraging neighborhoods to come up with ideas,” O’Mahoney said.