FINALIST: North Riverside, IL

"Small town with a huge heart"

Named a Finalist Because: The Golden Rule is part of the DNA of this town, which has institutionalized the concept of being kind to your neighbors.

From the Editors: North Riverside, Illinois, literally wrote the book on being nice. This Chicago suburb of 6,500 has its own kindness manual, a 65-page handbook called “Neighbors All: Creating Community One Block at a Time.” Each block has its own block captain—a volunteer who welcomes new residents, helps seniors run errands, makes sure kids play nice, and so much more. The captains, some 90 in all, all report up to Carol Spale, who holds the title of Neighborhood Services Coordinator.

As official as it sounds, it’s an unpaid volunteer position. To Spale, it’s a way to give back to the community that made her family feel so at home when they arrived in 1979. Her son, David, requires special care, and from the beginning, neighbors pitched in. David needed “an involved physical therapy program that required three people at a time to move his arms and legs so that he could walk,” she told Reader’s Digest. “We were overwhelmed by the natural goodness of our neighbors. A core group of about 20 neighbors alternated coming seven days a week, twice a day, for six years.”

The handbook contains tips for being kind—not that North Riversiders really need instructions—as well as inspiring stories of the Golden Rule in action. One story begins, “One time, going door-to-door with handouts, a block captain discovered an older couple without a working stove.” The Neighborhood Services Committee found the money to buy them a new stove.

Block captains are assisted by other volunteers, called Angels. Many of the Angels are kids, who learn at a young age to help fulfill their town’s motto: “Small community town with a big heart.”

— The Editors

Residents gather to mark the 25th anniversary of the Neighborhood Services Committee. (Credit: Tina Valentino)

There is no competition when it comes to North Riverside. Neighbors, strangers, and village staff are much more than fun and nice, they’re genuinely caring, compassionate, and concerned about those around them, 24/7. No place comes close: they share garden vegetables, shovel snow, mow lawns, give rides to doctor appointments, donate unused items, pay utility bills, write cards to the elderly, give struggling or depressed neighbors a reason to smile, provide youth scholarships, and never turn anyone away. For more than 25 years, the town’s mantra has been to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It has changed lives, including my own — and I don’t live there. I wish I did. God bless 3,000 of the most caring people in the USA.

The town even has an active Neighborhood Services Committee that helps all residents in need — they’ve even written a manual on how to do so!

Stories About North Riverside

One time, a Block Captain gave a little live Christmas tree to a man who was very ill. He had no decorations in his room and always stayed in bed, so he was very touched by this little tree. The next day, we received a phone call from his niece. She said, “Thank you so much for what you have done. After the Block Captain left, my uncle asked if we could drive him around town to see all the decorations. We had been asking him to do this, but he refused to try and now he wanted to go out.” She said she had tears in her eyes. A few months later, we learned he passed away, but felt great joy that we had made his last Christmas a bit more merry.

There was a power outage on one side of a block for over 30 hours. A neighbor ran borrowed extension cords to the other side of the street to power her neighbor’s oxygen. The Public Works employees stopped by and placed two protective barriers over the cord. Other neighbors stored food in their refrigerators, and another started a generator for a family with frail individuals.

At one get-together, a couple on the block finally attended after declining for three years. All the neighbors gave them a round of applause. Even the mailman was invited and came to that party. No one is left out. There are hundreds of other stories:

Helping around the holidays

North Riverside’s community care manual

Neighborhood Services helps neighbors connect

Children attend a Neighborhood Services meeting to talk about how they help out, too! (Credit: Tina Valentino)
More children talking about their service. (Credit: Tina Valentino)

Sherri’s Story

I was born here and lived here as an adult, and cannot say enough wonderful things about this village. I still have friends from my childhood, and think this is because we grew up as not just friends, but family. Everyone is always willing to help in times of need. I love living here and would recommend it to anyone!

Back in 2013 with all the heavy rains, a few blocks of our village were in danger of flooding. A simple social media request went out asking anyone who could help fill sandbags for those blocks to show up at the village that evening. Hundreds of residents showed up, most were not even in danger of flooding but wanted to help those at risk.

Neighbors helping neighbors combat the flooding. (Credit: Sherri Belmonte)

Kathy’s Story

Besides the wonderful organizations and committees, we have the best Public Works department that keeps our streets clear even in a major storm. They have the Handyman Program that helps seniors and disabled. Neighborhood Services and Block Captains keep a watchful eye on neighbors in need of assistance. We have an excellent school district and our village is always there to help when asked.

Within the past two years there were two fires, which is extremely rare for North Riverside. Residents got together via social media, block parties and captains spreading the word on donating the necessary supplies to help the affected families during their struggles. Clothes, money, home goods, etc., were given to these families by their community

Christmas For A Cause, which was formed three years ago, has helped over 100 families during the Christmas season by providing them with Walmart gift cards and meals. They host an event where hundreds of residents join together with raffles and other fundraising activities. It’s a great time, and residents all show their support like one big family.

Josh, a North Riverside resident with special needs, was recognized at the annual Chili Cook-off for being crowned homecoming king! (Credit: Kathy Ranieri)