Those of you who attended the SCOPE*10 Celebration last week might be wondering: Who were all those great kids greeting people and delivering "newspaper" programs to everyone? They were some of the "Central-Cocoanut Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters!" The Scavenger Hunters are neighborkids who live in the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood* of Newtown in Sarasota. Since the summer of 2009, these kids have been contributing to their neighborhood as real-deal community-builders. They are a neighbor-group self-described on their website in this way:
We are neighbors on a quest to explore all the great things in our own neighborhood, and to discover how we might increase our sense of connection and belonging in this particular patch of Sarasota, Florida that we call home.
While several of us are grown-ups, most of us are kids. That's because our neighborhood scavenger hunting is all about following neighborkids' lead, since kids are naturally inclined to make friends, tell stories, and be curious, playful and exuberant - the very qualities that make for gifted neighborhood changemakers, community leaders, and social innovators.
Summertime is "scavenger hunting season" in our neighborhood. That means that each week, we set out on foot, scooter or bike, with our toys in tow, and explore another block in our neighborhood. We meet people who live or work here, find all sorts of fun ways and places to play, and keep an eye out for fellow neighborkids. We snap pics as we go and afterward we write up stories of our adventures, both to remember our discoveries and to share them with everybody else in our neighborhood and community. We hope this will help us all to better tune in and recognize all that's going on around here these days, so that we can make the most of opportunities as they arise and also respond to upsetting stuff as it happens.
Neighborhood scavenger hunting is something we do together as neighbors because it's fun, and we love it here, and we are explorers and inventors at heart. This is not a formal service program. It is not an "out-of-school time initiative." It is about being neighbors together, with intention and awareness.
As SCOPE got to know the Scavenger Hunters through their adventures and contributions (after all, Central-Cocoanut is the neighborhood where the SCOPE office is located), SCOPE realized - WOW! This is exactly the kind of community engagement that our organization is all about! So during the second summer of scavenger hunting (2010), SCOPE invited the Scavenger Hunters to set up an office of their own within the SCOPE office. By working alongside one another, SCOPErs could then learn from the active community-building efforts of the Scavenger Hunters, and vice versa.
Over time, the collaboration grew between this neighbor-group and SCOPE. Then in the Spring of 2011, when a statewide contest was announced for "BEST Neighborhoods" in Florida, it provided a wonderful opportunity for the Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters to join forces with SCOPE in a more formal way, as partners and fellow neighbors of Central-Cocoanut. And lo and behold - we won! Hence the BEST Neighborhoods efforts that are now underway in our community.
Do I sound like a proud auntie? If so, that's because I, like the kids, am "co-located" in Central-Cocoanut - first, as a neighbor (and Neighborhood Scavenger Hunter), and now also (since October 2010) as a SCOPEr (responsible for the Neighborhoods- and Community Data- Initiatives).
Anybody out there still wondering what social innovation is? THIS IS IT.
*Actually, some of the Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters are kids who lived in the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood at some point over the past two years, and then stayed connected even after moving elsewhere because they feel that this will always be their home neighborhood. As one 10-year-old who moved to Orange Avenue recently said, "I will ALWAYS be a Central-Cocoanut Neighborhood Scavenger Hunter!"