Julie Shay was a physical therapist before she took time off to raise her family. She had every intention of returning, until she discovered her true calling: coordinating a group of neighbors to serve their community.
In 2006, Shay founded Good Neighbors Group (GNG) to demonstrate that one person can make a huge difference in the community.
“The GNG is a resource to help people find ways that they can help one another, for the sake of supporting our community, environmentally and socially,” Shay said.
After functioning in Shay’s neighborhood for a time, she set up a network of people around Severna Park who were interested in helping.
“The idea still stands that reaching out and taking care of your neighbor, or doing something for your neighbor, really does cure a lot of ills that society has,” Shay said. “So, I think that's the image that I had when I was getting this started.”
Today, the organization has more than 625 people on its email list and almost 450 people have liked the Facebook page. Although social media was not so widely used when GNG began, Shay said it has helped her to spread the word about the work she is doing in the community. Overall, Shay said that people want to help but usually do not know where to begin. GNG connects them with those opportunities.
“I think that people often feel overwhelmed by the issues that exist, like poverty, food insecurity, housing and various things like that,” Shay said. “I mean, where would you even start? So, what I found is that when I specifically break those things down, it's incredible to see what we can do.”
Shay and the GNG host a variety of events throughout the year including the Severna Park Earth Day Festival, Eek-o-tober, and ongoing donation and recycling services. In February, GNG held its annual S(o)uper Bowl food drive. Shay acts as the bridge between 10 neighborhoods on the Broadneck peninsula and 39 neighborhoods in Severna Park, and the various food pantries. Depending on the neighborhood's location, donations will go to SPAN, the Annapolis trio of pop-up pantries, My Brother’s Pantry and Asbury Church Assistance Network (ACAN.)
While Shay is undoubtedly an important asset to the organization, she credits her board members and volunteers with making GNG a success.
“I have an amazing board of eight other people besides myself who I can't believe want to do as much as they do,” Shay said. “They energize me and they are so motivating. And then there's people who just rise to the occasion in the community. It blows my mind.”
Shay said that her work with GNG has proved that the greater Severna Park community is a community full of people who want to make a positive difference.
“I really want people to be more aware that these people are here in our community, and they're quiet,” Shay said. “I would say it's a really good-hearted community. And I would like us to get branded that way.”
Shay encourages members of the community to help in any way they can. More information is available at www.goodneighborsgroup.org or on the Good Neighbors Group Facebook page.