The Nicest Place in Maryland: Whitehurst Community in Severna Park
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2019 FINALIST
"A Waterside Community for Young and Old"
It’s hard to find a house in this neighborhood because people hardly leave, and when they do, they sell to the next generation.
Betz Wild moved to the Whitehurst community in Severna Park, Maryland, from Ohio in 1979. Years later, when she was starting a family of her own and her parents were contemplating selling their house, she decided to buy it.
“I wanted my son to grow up in this kind of neighborhood,” she says, adding that about 16 other nearby houses are also owned by kids who grew up in them.
The young man became a Marine and was deployed to Afghanistan. While there, he told his mother that the Afghan kids were amazed by his sunglasses, how they changed the way the world looked. She shared this tidbit with her neighbors, who banded together to buy a box of children’s sunglasses and ship them halfway around the world.
The neighbors were there for Wild when tragedy struck and her son was killed in 2013 in a mortar explosion accident. They lined the streets with hundreds of American flags.
“Whether I was going to a service or running an errand, these flags lined the path. It felt like a hug from my neighborhood every time,” she says.
That kind of care is what Whitehurst is all about. Don Walters, 88, has lived here since as far back as anyone can remember. Of late, his health has declined, but because of the kindness of his neighbors, he’s able to stay in the home he knows, surrounded by the people he loves. Kati Elliot, who nominated Whitehurst, walks Walters’s dog nightly, and has for years. In the winter, neighbors shovel his walk, and in the fall they rake his lawn.
When Alexis Oehling moved in, the welcoming committee bowled her over with warm cookies and advice. She even feels comfortable letting her seven-year-old walk the short distance to the park to play, knowing his friends will be waiting and an adult will make sure he gets home when it’s time.
“We can’t believe we live here,” she says.
Neighbors watch out for each other, we all hang out together at our community pool, volleyball and marina. We do community paddle board outings, raft up on our boats, and community wide cookouts, etc. Younger residents help older residents.
Recently, one of our neighbors passed away suddenly. Her son said it best at her celebration of life at our community clubhouse: “In getting ready for this, I realized I needed to get some beer. I was going to go to the liquor store, but a neighbor said ‘don’t worry about this we have it’ and they put out a request to neighbors to bring beer. As you can see we have more than enough. This neighborhood is so giving and supportive.”
People are always posting on our community Facebook page when they need advice, help with something, giving away children’s items that are too small, etc. We have children purchase their parents homes and move back to the community where they grew up because it is so special. We start community food trains when someone in the community is sick or injured. We watch out for our elderly neighbors and do things like shoveling their driveways and walkways when it snows. Everyone knows everyone else and kids here are really raised by the community.
We had our son in May and went to our community pool opener party when he was only days old. At one point I said to his dad, “have you seen our son lately?” he said he was being passed from person to person so all of the moms and grandmothers at the pool could get a chance to hold him. They brought him back to me when it was time for him to eat.
Another time when one of our neighbors had a stroke, I put out a request for people to show up on a Saturday to rake his leaves from the many oak trees he had on his property. Close to 50 people showed up with tools in hand. When our community board wanted to rebuild our clubhouse after a fire destroyed part of it, we were able to self fund the construction. Each home was assessed $2,500 and you either had the choice of paying it up front or paying it off over time. Other members of the community were able to purchase additional assessments and earn a little interest on the money while it was being paid back over time. It was such a success that we were able to fund an entirely new clubhouse without it being a hardship on anyone.
We have community kids events and adult parties, we put together teams to compete in a community Olympics. We have neighborhood cookbooks where people share recipes. Three families in our community just moved to different houses in the community because they wanted a nicer home or a home on the water, but didn’t want to leave the community. They waited until something opened up. Most homes in our neighborhood sell via word of mouth to friends or family of someone who lives in the neighborhood.
This nomination came through ourpartnership with Nextdoor, the world’s largest social network for neighborhoods.