BELONGING

Neighbor Spotlight: Charlene Downs on Getting Out in the Neighborhood

By

Alicia Briggs

– VOL. 9

For Charlene Downs, Kansas City has always been the place she calls home. She’s raised a family, built a successful career, and she’s a proud grandmother and dog mom —all here in Kansas City. Despite her full life, Charlene continues to put herself out there and is always ready to welcome someone new to the neighborhood.

By day, Charlene works at KU Hospital, verifying insurance for the neurosurgery department. During the pandemic, her workload has only gotten more intense, so it’s important for her to have a way to wind down after work. Her favorite way to destress is through creating art in her craft room. 

“I have lots of different hobbies — there’s scrapbooking, photography, cards, t-shirts, stickers, journals, coloring, making booklets — all those different types of things.” She explains, showing me her gorgeous artwork. Charlene doesn’t just create for herself. She also does custom orders and has hosted her own craft fair, which she plans to do again this summer. 

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Charlene brings it in for a group hug after one of Venn’s Saturday morning water aerobics class in June.

When she’s not at work or hanging out with her grandkids, you can find Charlene attending an event or chatting up someone new. The people in Kansas City are one of her favorite things about her hometown. “It’s a great place to meet all different types of people because a lot of the people here are from other places,” she says. “It just feels like a safe space to meet people. It feels community-oriented.” 

Despite Charlene’s busy schedule, she consistently gets involved in the community. She feels it’s important to “ know what’s going on and who is there to help; who you can go to if you have a problem. Just to be able to make connections and get some resources and, of course, meet new people. You can have more control over what happens in your neighborhood when you’re involved.” 

Charlene is always trying to connect with new people. That’s why she started going to Venn events and getting more involved. “Thanks to Venn and our pool parties and other fun events, I meet a lot more people,” She reflects. “Going to the events and really having a good time — meeting my neighbors and bonding with them. That was the attraction [to Venn]. I was like, this is fun, I like this, this is a neighborhood!”

Venn has helped Charlene meet people outside of her normal social circle. “Venn has been the perfect thing…I never would’ve met them otherwise. I think my line of work versus my neighbors’ line of work is also what stopped us from meeting each other. I was the type who just went home after work, did church stuff, played with the grandkids,” she says. “But I’ve met a lot of artists, sales-type people, marketing people — it really has kept that energy going inside of me so that’s been positive.

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Charlene shares a laugh with her neighbors at Venn’s holiday Dig In dinner in December.

Charlene’s advice: Be positive. Smile. Be a source of comfort. Introduce yourself to neighbors. Let them know you’re there.

Charlene is now a Building Ambassador for Venn and is known for introducing neighbors to each other. For her, connection is key when it comes to building a stronger community. “Just to be aware of others and their opinions and that they matter. When you’re doing things it not only affects you, it affects everybody,” she explains.

For those of us who struggle to get to know our neighbors, Charlene has some advice. “First of all, be positive. Smile. Be a source of comfort. Because bad energy and negativity don’t attract anyone,” She laughs. “I’m in the Life At Venn app quite a bit. A lot of times I see people post that they are new here and they haven’t met anyone. I like responding to those types of posts because they are looking for something new. Why not introduce yourself and let them know you’re there?”

Through Venn, Charlene has found a way to get to know her neighbors. “Get in that app and make a post. Meet some people in your building. Go have a drink and a conversation. Just go get connected and use that app to do it,” she advises. “You never know who’s in your building unless you get out there and meet them and make those connections.”