Denver, Colorado: When Charlo Garcia moved to the Colorado capital with his husband in the fall of 2019, he was looking forward to meeting new friends—but the pandemic had other plans. "I'm very outgoing, and I thought, 'Oh no, this is not gonna be good,' " says the artist, who began searching for a protect to channel his energy. He was captivated by the idea of mural painting, which would free him from the limits of a canvas and also dress up the underappreciated corners of his new neighborhood. "In Mexico, where I'm from, we don't really have alleyways," he says. "When I moved to the U.S., I noticed people would just put their trash there. Why nor beautify those spaces?" On Nextdoor, the social network for neighborhoods, Charlo asked whether anyone would want a custom mural, and his neighbor Clay took him up on it. "It was a beautiful experience meeting him and his girlfriend, chatting six feet apart," Charlo says. "Like a mini block party." When Clay posted pictures of the results, requests rolled in, and Charlo set to work sprucing up his neighbors' formerly unloved alleys. He asks his clients about everything from their favorite colors to the things they hold dear ("One family asked me to make it all about their dog") and often hides names or special words in the design. Now he's painted 46 murals and would love to get to 100: "The city has become my gallery."
Charlo Garcia with one of his creations: "People will contact me for a list of addresses of the murals so they can see them all. It's amazing, going to alleys to see art."
Credit: COURTESY OF HANNAH MITCHELL
a neighbor in need of...A Business Reboot
Dayton, Ohio: Last summer, when he was 8 years old, Colby Mitchell spent his days slinging ice-cold lemonade to his community. But his hustle came to a sudden half when his stand went missing one August afternoon. "Colby came inside to grab something, and when he went back, his srand was gone," says his mother, Hannah. (In Colby's glass-half-full interpretation, someone must have mistaken the unattended stand for a giveaway irem and driven of with it.) Hannah immediately posted on Nextdoor to plead for its safe return, and her message was met with dozens of donations from concerned community members wanting to help Colby rebuild his business. The most generous offer came later that week, when local handyperson Ron Siegel pulled into the Mitchells' driveway with a custom-made, hand-painted lemonade stand he'd built. "We were blown away by the support from complete strangers," Hannah says. Ever the enterprising businessperson, this year Colby pivoted his focus for winter weather, and turned his stand into a hot chocolate outpost.
Colby Mitchell proudly poses behind his aptly named drink stand.
a neighbor in need of...Helping Hands
Nashville: Soon after an early-morning tornado took Marlene Reedy and her husband by surprise, the couple realized they were dealing with more than just a power outage. A titanic downed tree had completely blocked their driveway, and they worried about how they'd get their car out. Fortunately, neighbors sprang into action: "Five people showed up, then 10, then 20," Marlene recalls. Some had chainsaws, others rode up on mowers, and within an hour, the Reedys' driveway was clear. "I knew some of the helpers, and others I had never seen before," Marlene says. "As I watched everyone work together, I was reminded of the goodness in people."
About Nextdoor: Download the app or go to nextdoor.com to connect with your neighbors.
Credit: Andre L. Perry
a neighbor in need of...Fresh Produce
Brooklyn, New York: When residents noticed an uptick in food insecurity among neighbors, Adriene Thorne, a local reverend, put out the call on Nextdoor for a fresh-food pantry. Several months later, the Brooklyn Heights Community Fridge was born. Designed to blend in with the block's btownstones, the shared fridge is open 24/7 (like a Little Free Library) and is powered by an industrial-strength outdoor extension cord. Groups commit to refilling the fridge with fresh vegetables, snacks, and soups, and locals routinely pitch in to clean it. There's just one rule: Take only what you need. "The fridge is an act of faith, since there's no lock or code to access it," says Caroline Koster, one of its founders. "The project has shown me that you can't assume anyone's food circumstances—you just never know."
Fresh food, full stomachs, can't lose. Caroline Koster (left) and Reverend Adriene Thorne spent months bringing their idea of a 24/7 fridge to life.
Credit: Jeff Minton
a neighbor in need of...A Hero
Castaic, California: When a friend's young son developed a brain tumor three years ago, former police officer and longtime Spider-Man superfan Jiten Pandya used his powers for good."I dressed up in my costume and sent him a video message to cheer him up," says Jiten, who leans into his alter ego with a custom motorcycle painted with spiderwebs. As the comic books say, with great power comes great responsibility, so Jiten's wife, Lindsay, suggested he start making regular visits to other children in need. News of Jiten's house calls spread on Nextdoor, and he's so far visited nearly 200 kids across the state of California in need of a morale boost. But he's not the only superhero—Lindsay has accepted the role of Spider-Woman, and the couple's 23-year-old son, Noah, rounds out the squad as Superman. "It's my turn to give back to the country that has given me so much," says the London native. "My goal is to empower kids and remind them that a little kindness and compassion go a long way."
Look out! Here comes Spider-Man. To his Southern California neighbors, Jiten Pandya is a true marvel.
Credit: COURTESY OF ASHLYN SO
a neighbor in need of...A Supportive Audience
San Mateo, California: Following a spate of recent attacks against Asians, 14-year-old Ashlyn So was compelled to speak out. The fedgling teen activist took to Nextdoor, where she planned her first peaceful rally in support of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In just under a week, Ashlyn, who until then had no experience with activism, spread the word, secured a permit, and organized a Stand for Asians rally at San Mateo Central Park. Her hard work paid off—hundreds of friends, fellow students, and neighbors showed up with signs in hand. "I wanted people to gather and freely share stories of how they deal with racism,"she says. The resulting march taught Ashlyn a thing or two about the power of community—and herself. "I didn't know I was capable of raising my voice in front of so many strangers," she says.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, activist Ashlyn So rallied in support of her AAPI community.
a neighbor in need of...A Work Wardrobe
Washington, D.C.: Though Jamal Alsoffi has never had a big clothing budget, he's always had an eye for style. He still owns one of the watches he tinkered with as a kid, an old-fashioned pocket style with a chain, and has been known to rock a fedora. "I got that from my brother," he says. "Dress for success, because you never know when you might meet your next boss." Jamal looked sharp for customers at Starbucks, where the army veteran worked as a barista while going to school for IT support, weating his best shoes even though he spent long shifts on his feet. (He invested in a lot of inserts.) When he landed a position at the consulting frimm Accenture, it was more important than ever to look the part, but his shoes were the worse for wear. Since he lacked the funds to replace them right away, he did what he's always done best: hustle. "I posted on Nextdoor asking whether anyone needed help—cleaning out the garage, running errands—that I could do in exchange for shoes or belts," he says. By the next morning, his neighbors, some of whom recognized him from their morning latte runs, had filled his inbox with offers not only for accessories but also for suits, store credit, and gift cards. Jamal headed into his job with a surge of confidence—and a very snappy shoe collection. "I was at a loss for words," he says. "I promised the community I'd pay it forward and never forget their support."
Credit: COURTESY OF NADINE HARTMAN
a neighbor in need of...Four-Legged Friendship
Mesa, Arizona: The staff at Noble Hospice and Palliative Care went above and beyond to grant a wish to one of their long-term patients, 77-year-old Diane McKay. While making rounds, Nadine Hartman, the hospice's director of social services, found out that Diane had loved growing up around horses. Back at her desk, Nadine posted on Nextdoor looking for a local rancher who could offer the services of a horse gentle enough to interact with a woman in hospice care. Deb Ricketts of the Wildhorse Ranch Rescue—and her mount, Duke—were ready to help. Nadine brought Diane to the stables, and "it was like her muscle memory kicked in," she says. She and Deb witnessed a childlike joy in Diane as she spent a few hours petting, feeding, and brushing the horse. When "our sweet Diane" passed away last December, Nadine remembered that heartwarming day. "I know how much joy Diane felt in that moment," she says. "I'm glad people can see the happiness in hospice, because there's a lot of it to be had."
Horse lover Diane McKay (left, with rancher Deb Ricketts) was brought up surrounded by Arabians.
Credit: Jeff Minton
a neighbor in need of...Tiny Treasures
Broomfield, Colorado: Janae Avera was 9 years old when she was mesmerized by her first snow globe, a souvenir from her grandparents' vacation. Her fascination was unusual for someone who, like Janae, has Williams syndrome, a rare genetic condition. "Many kids with Williams syndrome don't gravitate to toys or objects," says Stefanny Avera, Janae's aunt. "They'd rather engage with other people." The family added to her collection, until her bedroom shelf held more than three dozen snow globes. But then one night last January, the now 16-year-old awakened to a crash. The shelf had fallen, leaving her spheres in shards. "Janae was devastated," says Stefanny, who decided to post on Nextdoor, hoping to buy a few secondhand replacements. What she received was a universe of donated snow globes, many with notes explaining what they meant to the giver. "One couple sent one they'd gotten after losing a baby—giving it to Janae was their way of moving on," Stefanny says. "A woman who had lost her sister to cancer brought her sister's entire collection. We both stood crying on the front porch." Janae has now received 86 globes from around the world. "One little girl sent one from Australia," Stefanny says. "Her mom told us she wanted to do it for the same reason I believe a lot of people did—to be part of something bigger than herself."
Janae Avera with part of her snow globe collection. "They're all her favorites," says her aunt Stefanny. "She holds them to her chest."
Credit: Jeff Minton
a neighbor in need of...Safe Haven
Broomfield, Colorado: This time last year, translator Ahmad Siddiqi, his wife, and their four children lived in a five-bedroom house in Afghanistan. By late August, after U.S. forces left the country and Kabul fell to the Taliban, the family was wading through sewage canals, desperate to reach the airport where they hoped Special Forces could put them on a flight out. About 7,000 miles away in Broomfield (yes, the same town where Janae Avera lives), Scott and Heidi Henkel were relieved when they learned the Siddiqis had left Kabul safely. As an army captain stationed in Afghanistan, Scott had depended on Ahmad, "the best translator in the counrty," he says. They'd gone on more than 400 missions in active-duty combat zones, and had kept in touch over the 14 years since Scott returned to the United States. Now the Henkels were about to conduct what felt like a military-scale operation: helping the Siddiqis create a new home. "We wanted to alleviate as much trauma as we could, so we wanted to have everything ready when they arrived," Heidi says—and the family did need everything, right down to knives and forks. When she put out a plea on Nextdoor, neighbors stepped up to offer a car, reduced rent in a home around the corner, bikes, computers, and school supplies, and some even donated their frequent flyer miles. A Colorado public agency saw Heidi's Nextdoor post and reached out to offer Ahmad a job. People signed up to bring meals. When the Siddiqis set foot in their new home, it was fully stocked with supplies purchased with neighborly donations and via a GoFundMe fundraiser. "The community here opened their arms like my parents," Ahmad says. "I will appreciate Colorado forever." In a time when hope is in short supply, the collective project was welcome, Scott adds. "It brought people together in a way that I hadn't seen in quite a few years in this polarized world."
"It's been good to get to know each other's cultures," says Heidi Henkel (seated, second from right), pictured here with son Connor (far left), husband Scott (second from left), daughter Emee (center), and the Siddiqis: Ahmad, his wife Horia, and their children.
Credit: COURTESY OF AHMED MOHAMMED
a neighbor in need of...Mad Science
Oakland, California: When Ahmed Mohammed suggested to his young niece and nephew that they try a science experiment, he was greeted with the enthusiasm kids usually reserve for dentists or liver buffets. "They said they hated science, which was shocking," Ahmed says. "Science was a huge part of my childhood." In what world, he wondered, could kids be uninterested in making a battery out of a potato? He grabbed a spud, and the rest was history. To convert other science haters, particularly those in underresourced school districts, he founded Kits Cubed, which offers fun, interactive projects (a plant maze, pop rocks). With the support of his Nextdoor neighbors, who have been as excited as kids with electrified potatoes, he's donated almost 10,000 kits and sold about 5,000. "I want to show kids that science isn't mystical," says Ahmed, a Stanford University freshman. "You can make science in the kitchen and drink it in the backyard."
Unicorns may be mystical, but Ahmed Mohammed—pictured here with two of his young protégées—believes science shouldn't be.