The Good Neighbors of Central Ohio have a simple mission; put your cares on hold for one day to care for someone else. In the beginning, our flagship event, The Good Neighbors Picnic for the Homeless, was based on the Make a Difference Day concept as our nation's largest day of service. It inspires 3 million Americans to help an estimated 20 million "neighbors" each September. Through the years, we have moved the picnic to a few weeks earlier to help ensure better picnic weather so we can attract more families with children.
It was early September of 1999 when I was sitting in on a planning meeting at FIRSTLINK, a Columbus, Ohio volunteer center. The subject of Make a Difference Day came up, the largest national day of service. A crazy idea sparked in my head and I asked if this could be my project. Be careful what you wish for...you might get it. In this case I did. It was a unanimous decision. Perhaps that should have been a sign. I took it as a vote of confidence and ran with it. I had only six weeks to do something that would not only represent FIRSTLINK as Central Ohio's Volunteer Center, but the overall theme of the service day-do something on this day that you truly feel "makes a difference." And I thought, "Why not a picnic for the homeless?"
It became apparent to me that, not only would this small event demonstrate the importance of good neighborliness to an often forgotten segment of our community, it would also demonstrate the kinds of activities that mobilize groups of community-minded volunteers AND help dispel myths about homelessness.
But a picnic in late October? Who would become excited about volunteering for such a thing when weather conditions at that time of year are so unpredictable? Apparently, nearly everyone I spoke to about serving on the planning committee... and with only six weeks to pull it off. My first call in the committee-formation process went to a friend, former associate and retired marketing expert. After he surprised me by saying 'yes' to the position of chairperson, a very strong working committee was formed. They represented various aspects of our community and included a person with a profound understanding of the homeless "system". Support mounted. that first year, over one hundred volunteers assembled at Columbus' oldest city park. On that cold, damp Saturday morning, they set up tents, fired up the charcoal and, throughout the afternoon, clothed and entertained 110 homeless men, women and children of our community.
This was no small task considering the lack of a budget for food, clothing, entertainment and transportation necessary in making this event a success.
At the 2000 picnic Anna Sheer, a young singer/songwriter from a local high school, performed the Good Neighbors Theme Song that she had written and contributed it to our event. She also performed for the Ohio's First Lady, Hope Taft, at the 2001 Make a Difference Day Ohio awards ceremony when we received our first award.
The rest is history. Every year the numbers of volunteers and homeless served have grown. What an inspiration this has been, watching the enthusiasm generated by new and veteran volunteers who make this expression of being "Good Neighbors" better each year.
Though our picnic has been recognized by Make a Difference Day Ohio as one of the most outstanding demonstrations on this day of service, none of the "partners" seek any kind of personal or professional recognition. I can safely say that altruism is the intrinsic quality of the growing success of the annual Make a Difference Day Good Neighbors Picnic for the Homeless.
Once, a volunteer approached me as the event was wrapping up for another year and said, "You've been telling me about this for some time. Now that I've had the opportunity to see the joy on the faces of adults and children first-hand, to see them have fun together while bridging cultural and economic gaps, watching them build understanding and respect in bridging those gaps...I GET IT!" It's one of those things wherein, to truly grasp the full significance, you have to "be there".
Our hope and vision is that our volunteer-developed Website will be seen by volunteer centers, groups and individuals all across America and beyond, that ALL communities with a homeless population will conduct a Good Neighbors Picnic in their honor and conduct individual and community wide efforts to reduce homelessness and hunger year-round, and that the attention given to this massive effort will some day truly Make a Difference.
Since its inception in 1999, the Good Neighbors of Central Ohio have grown exponentially, over 10 fold, in size and scope of service.
100% of all donations go directly to the support of our mission.
Our volunteer led and volunteer driven organization with no administrative overhead offers a variety of volunteer leadership and service opportunities that match an array of time and talent profiles. Literally anyone very young and very old can experience what it means to be a "Good Neighbor". We strive to unite every represented culture in Central Ohio to work side by side for the common cause of uplifting and serving our homeless and hungry, as our no longer forgotten neighbors; while building bridges of tolerance and acceptance between all residences.
In 2011, our organization filed for and received our independent status as charitable not for profit. Our flagship event will continue to be the Good Neighbors Picnic for the Homeless. However, we are now empowered to expand our efforts to include broader community collaborations including research targeting homelessness and hunger in our society.
In 2001, The Good Neighbors Picnic and its partnering organizations received one of only ten Make A Difference Day Ohio awards presented by Ohio's First Lady, Hope Taft, and OSU's Head Football coach, Jim Tressel. These awards recognized select events such as the Good Neighbors Picnic for their outstanding demonstration of community volunteerism during the annual national day of service.
In 2003 we received an Honorable Mention.
In 2006, Good Neighbors Picnic was honored with the Make A Difference Day Ohio Project Encore Award recognizing our annual project; serving the homeless community.
Each year we host hundreds of Central Ohio individuals and families without permanent housing. Volunteers give selflessly of their time and talents to create a successful "family picnic" in their honor.
Your donation of time and talent is a gift that warms the hearts of our guests in a demonstration of good neighborliness that is priceless.