OK, everybody, this is one I’ve been waiting to write for a while.
My name is Matt. I am just one guy. In the scope of the hundreds of homes in Minne Lusa, I represent just one house. I am a dad. I am a husband. I have a mediocre job in a grey box looking at a computer all day. I will not save North Omaha. I will not transform Minne Lusa.
But I try. I try to be the one to transform Minne Lusa. I try to change people’s opinions of North Omaha. I try to convince organic food stores and hardware retailers to set up shop here. I try to encourage neighbors to advocate for where they live. I try to make a difference.
But why? Well, let me tell you a little story about my experience with neighborhood transformations.
Almost my entire life, I lived in a house near Hanscom Park. My parents still live there. They bought the house on 33rd street because it had a big yard, was close to my grandparents, and was very inexpensive. The neighborhood was a collection of white foursquares filled with ancient neighbors who had all vowed to live forever I think. The neighborhood was mostly quiet since most of the old folks had gotten their partying out of their systems back in the Roaring Twenties. But it wasn’t all quiet. At the top of the hill, at the end of the alley that ran behind our home, there sat a conspicuously blue house. The house stood out for more than just its color, though. The house was inhabited by a family we’ll call the “Smiths.” They contributed . . . a very different flavor to the neighborhood. They had a large, loud, smelly St. Bernard named Nard. The poor mangy beast was chained to his doghouse with a tow chain and would lunge out to the full extent of it anytime an unsuspecting kid rode by on his bike. The police paid frequent visits to the house – sometimes to break up a fight, sometimes to return one of the kids who had been caught doing something naughty like shoplifting or pointing a loaded gun at someone. One time they came to collect the meth lab from the basement. It wasn’t long after that we watched the “Smiths” move out.
Then something happened that changed my neighborhood. Another family bought the house. They were quiet, hardworking people who did what they could to fix up the damage done to it by the “Smiths.” They were not activists. They did not initiate programs or install landscape features. They just were decent people. So how did this event change my neighborhood? Because suddenly, when one of the houses in the neighborhood went up for sale, the blue house didn’t chase anyone away. Someone would buy it. One by one, the old neighbors were replaced by new ones. Young families with kids (lots of kids actually) started moving into the homes that were no longer bothered by the blue house. The new families did work to the homes. They sent their kids outside to play together. They started an annual block party. A community sprouted up on the street.
All it took was one house. One family moved out. One family moved in. It was a simple, logical change. But it made all the difference in the world. It wasn’t immediate and it wasn’t sensational. However, I learned something from watching it all unfold. I learned that one house, one guy working a mediocre job, one boring change can alter the fabric of a neighborhood. I decided then that I wanted to be that guy. I wanted to be the person that would move into a neighborhood and contribute to a change.
I want to tell you what this boring dad/husband/quasi-lawn-enthusiast has done. I’ve developed a marketing idea for Minne Lusa by creating logo work, fonts, and brochures that were handed out to realtors. I helped encourage some of the ideas that have turned into Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard, one of Minne Lusa’s biggest events of the year. I started the push for Minne Lusa to be designated as an Historic District. Now, before you start to get turned off by all my horn tooting, understand that I point these things out to you only to say this: if I can do it, you can do it better. I realized as I worked on these projects that I had the help of other passionate neighbors who have done their own incredible things for the neighborhood. I was not alone in any project that I undertook. As a matter of fact, many times, all I did was say, “hey, I think I wanna try to do this.” Then people would come alongside me and pick up huge portions of the work. I never really did any of the projects by myself.
Communities like Minne Lusa are hungry for awesome things to happen. We already have a network of neighbors who are ready and willing to jump on board with new initiatives. Do not – I repeat DO NOT – underestimate the power of one person with an idea or a desire to make something better. You absolutely can make a difference here or wherever you are. You don’t have to sacrifice huge amounts of your time. You don’t have to shell out huge amounts of cash. If you are sincere about wanting to make a difference, start just by talking to someone about it. Write a letter to a store or your city council person asking for the change you want to see. Post your idea or question to the Minne Lusa Historic District Facebook page. Stop by for a cup of coffee on Saturday mornings at the Minne Lusa House and talk to some folks who would love to hear about your idea.
You’re just one person. You might even have a boring job. People might wonder what you hope to accomplish since you’re just one person. But so am I. And that makes us two. Start something, and you’ll realize how powerful one can be.
P.S. Spend a quick 3 minutes watching this video to get a quick breakdown of the real “Power of One”