Community leader Robin Klay has lived in Pioneer Village for the past four years. Having worked and lived in places like West Africa, Japan, and Mexico, she has gained a diverse and global perspective that she brings into her community connecting in Holland, MI. We were able to talk with Robin about her life, work, and her recent endeavors with the residential cohort she formed called Pioneer Neighbors.


What was something that you learned while living and working abroad?

I have learned that people love to tell their stories. One area I lived in was a very rural part of Oaxaca, Mexico. Living in a remote village, these people often imagine that they are not important to the broader community. But if you ask them to tell you their stories, they are very willing to share. As they shared, they came to realize that their lives were interesting and important. It’s inspiring to see people who don’t believe they have remarkable lives come to realize that they actually do.

Why do you think connecting with the community is important?

Ultimately, humans are meant for friendship. There are also a lot of extremely talented people who haven’t yet found places where they are needed. A lot of people whom I have engaged with–especially while living abroad–have been waiting for years for someone to ask them to share their knowledge, experience, and values. I think that’s the case with a lot of us; we are waiting to be asked to be a part of something meaningful and to share our experiences. That’s what these connections allow us to do.

Tell me more about the work you are doing now.

I live in Pioneer Village. Last winter, I met Jonna Johnson with CommunityWorks and learned about her experiences in community development. We began talking about how I could make some connections with people in the area. To start, I literally went door to door to each of the 72 units with a flyer inviting those nterested to help create opportunities for mutual sharing of our talents and meeting neighbors’ needs. We quickly discovered that all of us felt like strangers in our own neighborhood.

Has there been anything surprising about this work?

I have been pleasantly surprised by the way that people have taken great interest in getting to know each other. Residents have started to recognize others in their community and strike up conversations. One woman, who lost her husband about a year ago, wanted to find something new to do. She joined our Pioneer Neighbors group and offered to write up biographies so that people could get to know something about each other. She interviews a person for about 20 minutes and then writes up something really engaging. These brief insights about a person help neighbors discover mutual interests and create opportunities for new and deeper friendships.