September 2018 Neighbor Spotlight Rita Vanags

September 2018 Neighbor Spotlight Rita Vanags

Congratulations to Rita Vanags! She is the City of Durham’s Neighbor Spotlight for September 2018. Ms. Vanags was recognized for her work in the Five Oaks neighborhood, where she has lived for 11 years. 

Ms. Vanags describes her neighborhood as extremely friendly, where everyone knows each other. She says it is a safe community with the best pool and recreational association.

After a series of burglaries six years ago, Rita helped start the Five Oaks Neighborhood Watch. At their kickoff meeting, 60 people showed up.  They started organizing, and each of the four communities within designated block captains. Then they connected with Conni Rivers, one of the PAC 3 co-facilitators, who share her neighborhood organizing experiences and insights.

When the Five Oaks Neighborhood Watch first began, there was a lot of interest. However, as crime decreased, Ms. Vanags found it difficult to keep people engaged. So the neighborhood starting hold more special events to keep people active. For their neighborhood meetings, Ms. Vanags organizes guest speakers and special activities, including CPR Classes and active shooter training. Their most popular event is National Night Out, which is attended by about 100 residents each year.

Neighborhood Organizing Advice from Ms. Vanags:

  • Get neighbors who live near each other to interact.
    • When Five Oaks first started setting up parties, people had lived here for 10-15 years and didn’t know each other.She holds smaller block parties with the neighbors on her cul-de-sac. (They're called Island Parties after the island in the middle of their cul-de-sac.)
    • Host community garage sales to get people out and working together
  • Get involved in the PAC. Ms. Vanags enjoys the police reports and learning about the court system. She wishes more people would come out.

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