We’re a great hodgepodge in our area of town. Some residents are lifelong Dallasites. Others are transplants, having arrived via job offers, educational opportunities or (in my case) the fortune of being married to a Texan who longed to return to his roots. 

For those of us who have found our community in East Dallas, how do we pay it forward to make sure others feel that similar spirit of belonging?

The primary reason our family permanently returned to the same M Streets house after multiple stints away is because of the solid relationships we developed before we left. They were the result of invitations to happy hours and offers of friendship that we readily accepted. We also found opportunities to engage and contribute in our schools, neighborhood and local nonprofit organizations. As a result, we landed in a place where we felt like we fit — which is a great place to be.

We have moved often enough to know loneliness. To land in a new locale and not have fellowship is hard. And, it can be difficult to create. It takes effort to put out the “I’d like to be your friend” vibe, and it takes just as much labor for someone on the other side to extend the invitation.

Our son was in the middle of second grade when we moved to Seattle. People were friendly, but it was apparent that core friendships had formed during the early kindergarten years. It’s hard to infiltrate a tight group of friends. (In the spirit of full disclosure and in Seattle’s defense, we were there only six months.)

After 10-plus years of relocating, I’ve spent the better part of the subsequent five appreciating the inclusive sense of community we have here in East Dallas. Communities aren’t created by accident. They take effort and time. Whether it’s geographic boundaries, shared interests and experiences, common friends or similar beliefs and goals, there is that certain something that binds us together — and still allows others to be a part.

Living east of Highway 75 offers us convenient access to community-building opportunities. For example, White Rock Lake is a fantastic avenue to create camaraderie, including joining running clubs, biking, jogging, walking, hanging out at the dog park or visiting the adjacent Arboretum. And how fun is it to go out and run into people we know who are bartenders, wait staff, managers, owners or fellow diners at one of our local establishments? Even our chronic cycle of never-ending elections has created conversation and collaboration unique to our ever-changing neighborhood.

For me, our East Dallas schools offered opportunities to engage in activities and develop friendships. Eleven years ago, a fellow mom extended a bottle of wine and an offer to help when I hosted my first elementary school play date. We had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, watched 5-year-old boys play Star Wars and created a lifelong friendship. 

Not all find it this simple. I met a parent during my son’s first-grade year who said that while I may have discovered my greatest source of new friends by joining the PTA, in her view, the group was an exclusionary clique. A few weeks ago, a friend told me that being in the workforce full time precludes her from feeling like an integral part of her child’s school. And I often hear the refrain that the price of admission to school fundraisers keeps people from participating in what should be a neighborhood event.

These stories hurt my heart. There is an inherent inequity in the system of attempting to create one’s community. Whether because of personality,  circumstances or both, it’s an easier road for some than others. 

East Dallas is known for both eclecticism and inclusiveness. Those qualities draw people to our neighborhood and distinguish us from other areas of the city. Those of us who feel at home here benefitted from our neighborhood’s hospitality, so we must dig deep to remember how it felt when we were new and pay it forward.

Mita Havlick is a neighborhood activist. Find her commentary regularly in the back pages of our print edition and online at lakewood.advocatemag.com.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.