YourTurn winners: Tell us about your neighborhood

Nathaniel Larson, first place
Khadra Ibrahim, second place
Devon McNamara, third place
There is an old cliché that says “a home is what you make of it,” and in my opinion, this is true. Any house you move into is just a house. It takes a few years for it to really become home. It only really becomes home if the neighborhood fits.

Editor’s note: You wrote about the good and not-so-good aspects of living in Minnesota suburbs, cities and rural areas. The common theme most of you expressed is that — no matter the material features of a community — people are often what make a neighborhood a positive or negative experience.

Volunteer judges read the 112 submissions and chose four winners based on the personal anecdotes, honesty and creativity of the authors. Thanks to all of you who wrote an essay for the contest.

YourTurn will be on hiatus for the summer months, but check back in the fall — we’ll have a new prompt eagerly awaiting your responses!

First place ($100 prize)

Nathaniel Larson
Southwest High

Judge’s comments: “The author takes a very personal approach to the prompt by sharing a childhood story and stresses the message that the ‘little things’ make a neighborhood a good one.”

When I was younger, maybe 7 or 8, I won my first raffle. You know, the thing where you buy a ticket for $1 in hopes of winning a car or dishwasher, but you never do? Well, for the first time ever—and since—I won! It was a victory that surpassed all others for someone my age, other than perhaps the coveted annual neighborhood drawing contest.

Of course, my raffle prize wasn’t as glamorous as it is for some raffles. It was a little metal box with a drawer and magnets. You could also paint it. The best part was that it had a lock and key, so no one could steal anything from it. On the other hand, one could just pick it up and carry it away whole, but nevertheless, it was pretty nifty.

For months, I adored that little priceless metal box (read: made for less than $5 somewhere). But who had started the raffle in the first place? It was actually a local shop owner who was willing to give up something small and who was also astute enough to know what little things can do to spark the imagination of kids like me.

The thing I like most about my neighborhood, Linden Hills, is what it does for kids. Everyone seems to focus on kids just a little bit more – whether the substantial playgrounds or the bookstore that not only has an adult door, but also a smaller, kid-sized door. There are so many parks it is almost hard to choose which one to play in, and the schools are strong and continually growing. And shopkeepers host raffles that have kids jumping in excitement. Every day, young kids enjoy story time at the library. Even as I get older, I still benefit from our neighborhood’s attention to youth. Because of the education I have been given so far, I am confident that I will go to college.

The emphasis on kids is certainly not a feat of the kid-folk voting bloc or a kid-controlled neighborhood council. The special interest groups that serve kids are the parents, teachers, organizers, coaches, and—yes—astute shopkeepers, who have the energy and determination to make our neighborhood a better place for young people.

Kids definitely cannot complain about the special attention they have here in Linden Hills. There is a whole world for kids to explore, and it takes many people to make it possible. I hope that shopkeeper knows what he or she did for me.

And, if you’re wondering, I’m still gloating about my one raffle victory.

Second place ($50 prize)

Khadra Ibrahim
Southwest High

Judge’s comments: “The description starts with a list of practical, concrete conveniences, then goes a bit further by noting that the way the neighborhood feels is what’s most important—when a place feels right, it feels like home. The suggestion for improvement follows the same line of thought, that offering opportunities for community involvement would be more valuable than adding more conveniences.”

Every neighborhood is different, just as every house is different. My new neighborhood—when compared to my last one—is paradise. I live in south Minneapolis near Franklin Library. It’s a fairly safe place. I have lived here for almost three years and have not witnessed anything dangerous and out of the ordinary happen.

Older people inhabit the homes surrounding mine. It is usually quiet. You never see anyone around until kids return from school or parents from work. The only time we actually see or talk to our neighbors is on the weekends.

We all love this neighborhood because of its proximity to everything, including a library, a great bookstore, restaurants, bakeries, parks, Somali Hala’s (a store that sells only Muslim/Arab materials), and even a T-Mobile store, which I use every time my phone needs something. One of my favorite things about our neighborhood is that we have a famous Arab store. It’s got everything a Muslim girl could want, starting with clothing, such as the latest fashioned skirts and scarves to the latest jewelry. It’s literally a block away from me. The stores in my neighborhood are like an open market; so being there feels like a big community, which is always very comforting to have.

The one thing I would change about my neighborhood is to make it more community-oriented. While you can easily gather your friends up and meet somewhere, it would be better for teens and parents to have a community gathering event for the whole neighborhood every once in awhile.

Any new neighborhood is hard to settle into at first. When moving or buying a new house, do not just buy the house, but the entire neighborhood. There is an old cliché that says “a home is what you make of it,” and in my opinion, this is true. Any house you move into is just a house. It takes a few years for it to really become home. It only really becomes home if the neighborhood fits.

Third place ($30 prize)

Devon McNamara
Orono High

Judge’s comments: “This essay revolves around the specific challenges of ‘country living’ and how isolating, frustrating, and lonely it can be to not live close to other people your age. The author paints a colorful picture of life in Independence, Minnesota, and has a creative idea for how to make Independence a better place for teens.”

Independence isn’t a bad place to live. But it isn’t necessarily a good place to live either. The endless fields separated by a large, lone house here and there, the smell of manure occasionally wafting through the windows and the constant dull roar of car engines rushing by on the highway easily distract any pleasantries one might have about “the country.” As a resident here for the past 14 years, the noise of cars and trains and annoying kids who unknowingly decided to come on my family’s property doesn’t have much of an effect on me anymore. However, the fact that I can’t bike or walk to many of my friends’ houses has recently become a problem.

Now, I know I can’t change the fact that I do, indeed, live in the country. But I think it would be fantastic if there were more teens around me that I could hang out with and not the obnoxious little rugrats who like to play with worms and “fish” in the neighborhood pond.

Recently, I’ve been abandoned (well, not really) by my three older siblings who each decided to continue their lives after high school, go away to college and get jobs. I’ve become rather lonely at home, without anyone in the next room to divulge all my secrets to or argue with. Overall, I’ve started noticing that Independence is not really the ideal place for a lonely teenager like myself.

The nearby city (if one can call it that) of Maple Plain doesn’t provide much intrigue for teens either. With a library, a coffee shop, and a pub as the possible “hangout” places, most of my friends and I prefer to beg our parents to drive us out to the theater in Plymouth or downtown Wayzata to hang around and possibly become a nuisance to any of the adults who, well, think all teenagers are a nuisance. It would be much better if there were a fun park or bowling alley or something for the teens around here to hang out at. I also think it would be cool if my neighborhood was tighter-knit and had monthly dinners to catch up on each other’s crazy lives or get to know the new neighbors. Obviously I have a perfected view of what I want my neighborhood to be like. Most of what I want will never happen, but one can dream, right?

Honorable mention

Claudia Cerda
Southwest High

Judge’s comments: “An articulate and desperate cry to find refuge in a place other than the neighborhood in which the author is living.”

I hate my neighborhood—with a passion. I’d rather not tell you the whereabouts of where I sleep at night, but I can say it’s a few yards away from Lyndale. The two reasons I hate my neighborhood are that it’s filled with old racist people, and my family is one of the few colored people there.

One important factor that determines whether or not you like your neighborhood is the people who live there. My neighbors are far from being the best neighbors. I’m not trying to be mean, but it’s the truth. Most are old people with full-on white hair. I didn’t mind that until I realized they were racist. And this is how I realized it: My family was gathered with everyone else because of the annual block party that we have. Everything was fine, until it came to the music. Nobody knew what music to play, so this old guy turned toward my mom and yelled, “We should play ‘em song of your people, ‘em damn Mexican people.” He started to do an absurd dance after that. Then, as my family and I were getting our burgers, another old man turned toward my brother and said, “You can take all ‘em burgers, knowing as how you’re refugees,” and he gave out a huge smile. I was angry at that point. But most of the people in our neighborhood don’t say this type of thing, all they do is watch us.

It’s one thing living around old racist people, it’s another thing when your family is the only one that’s different. We’re the only Hispanics; the neighborhood is overwhelmingly white. I really don’t like that. As I walk down my neighborhood, I get so many stares. People from their porches across the street stare me down. Once, I made eye contact with a neighbor as he was working on his lawn. He stopped what he was doing, stared at me, then headed towards his door, and shut it. As I walk by neighbors, they give me a “mean mug” face. I figure I get treated this way because my skin is not the same color as theirs. It is the only logical reason I can come up with. I’ve learned to walk with my head down and not deal with any of that crap. But it’s not a good feeling to be treated as an outcast.

I wish I could pick up my house and relocate it somewhere else—where the people are both friendly and diverse. My neighborhood is not a place for a teenager; it’s more suitable for the elderly. I’ve been living in this house for about 14 years. I thought I would grow to love my neighborhood, but I haven’t. I hate it more and more each year.

Extra excerpts

“As a teenager in Parkview you are not just some kid, but a member of the community. (But) something I feel would enhance the teen experience in this neighborhood would be the establishment of more “social hotspots,” … like a Starbucks, Chipotle or movie theater.” – Katy Pearson, Orono High School

“As a little girl, my neighborhood seemed really big and it felt like there was so much to explore. Now, it’s just comfortable and there are memories around each corner that will last a lifetime … Places like Great Harvest, Sebastian Joe’s and Wild Rumpus have become sacred places where I can see a reflection of my younger self.” – Sammie Coffler, Southwest High School

“I live in a neighborhood in Faribault. I emigrated to the U.S. in 2008 from Djibouti. I am originally from Somalia. There are a lot of things that I like about my neighborhood, such as safety, diversity and my school, and there are some things that I don’t like, such as distance to shopping and lack of a cultural festival.” – Ayan Aden, Faribault High School

“Most of the teenagers in north Minneapolis attend south Minneapolis high schools because north high schools aren’t doing as well academically. In fact, North High was almost shut down because enrollment was very low. We will need to create and improve our north Minneapolis high schools so they can compete and be up there with south Minneapolis high schools.” – Abraham Quevedo, Southwest High School