One man's push for Neighbor's Day

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Michael Corrigan is just an average Joe with a very big idea. A writer-designer in Westerville, Ohio, he wants the United States to adopt Neighbor's Day as a new national holiday.

"I want it to be a real holiday, not a pseudo holiday where we thank secretaries or grandparents," he says. "I don't want a card holiday, but a day where everybody gets out and does something with each other."

He's written to Oprah Winfrey and every member of Congress. The person he'd most like on board as a spokesman, though, is children's television star Fred Rogers, he of "it's a wonderful day in the neighborhood" fame.

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No word from Oprah or Mr. Rogers yet. But Rep. John Kasich (R) of Ohio is supportive of official state recognition of Neighbor's Day.

Mr. Corrigan would also love to enlist cast members from the old "Andy Griffith Show" to do public-service announcements. "I don't think we can ever get back to the Mayberry mentality, he says, "but I'd like to see us somewhere near there."

Corrigan acknowledges facing a huge uphill climb. Still, he takes every favorable letter and e-mail, every media inquiry, and each encouraging conversation as justification to push on.

The inaugural Neighbor's Day is scheduled for Sept. 25. Besides avoiding other holidays, the last Saturday in September is ideal, Corrigan says, because it falls early in a new school year.

This makes it possible to integrate lessons on neighborliness into the curriculum when children are still fresh from summer vacations and still mixing with friends and neighbors outdoors.

In Corrigan's own community, which sits just north of Columbus, Ohio, the Westerville city schools plan to participate in the "Favor for a Neighbor" challenge. This is among a number of lesson plans and activities in the works by Corrigan's Better Neighbors Program, which is initially concentrating on central Ohio.

Teachers in participating schools will instruct students to select a neighbor to help and a favor to do.

Once approved, pupils will perform their deeds after school and on weekends and write a report on what they did, why, and how it affected them and the neighbor they helped. Ribbons will be awarded for completing the challenge.

The school curriculum will support this three- or four-week civics lesson. "Children can take what they're learning home to their parents, bringing awareness about neighborliness and doing some good at the same time," Corrigan says.

What inspired Neighbor's Day, he says, was television coverage of the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing. "What's happened to 'love thy neighbor'?" a reporter asked.

"The Golden Rule is what we've all forgotten, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us," Corrigan says. "I just think we need to get back to that and start doing favors. In the Midwest they've built houses without sidewalks or front porches. We need to make an extra effort to get out into our community and be a little more friendly and outgoing."

Corrigan realizes neighborliness starts at home. He works from home and tries to do a good turn by acting as a friendly cop. "I look out my office window and see these kids getting off the bus every day," he says. "Since I'm around, if there's an altercation I'll break it up."

His neighbors, he says, have reciprocated with various kindnesses shown his wife and him.

Spending a little time in connecting with others, he believes, is especially important in an age when there are many single parents and not many "Waltons, with the rest of the family living in the same house or around the corner."

Corrigan estimates he's already spent $15,000 of his own money trying to kick-start Neighbor's Day, which has largely been a one-man initiative. He's started to line up sponsors (a mortgage company and brokerage firm are on board so far), and the Ohio Crime Prevention Association announced its support of the project. Still, this is kitchen-table activism that relies heavily on a press kit, a Web site (www.neighborsday.com) and a self-published book.

Corrigan is also the creator of cartoon character Frank Blunt, whose name reflects his unrestrained nature. The character is used in a series of flip-sign books, intended to defuse office tensions or road rage with messages like, "Temporary holiday - back in 5 minutes" or "Everyone remain seated and calm."

Corrigan hopes to plant events in Midwestern cities like Cincinnati, Columbus, and Detroit that will serve as the real models for future Neighbor's Days.

"Honestly, if the whole country knows about Neighbor's Day," he says, "that's the highest level of success I can achieve."

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