We chat with Janice and Al Repicci, who show us that building a sense of community starts with a simple hello. Any day can be a beautiful day in the neighborhood
photography by Vendera Alexandrova
If Greenwich magazine gave out a Mr. Rogers Good Neighbor Award, Janice and Al Repicci would top the list. Beloved members of the Willowmere neighborhood of Riverside for over thirty-five years, the Repiccis are known for creating a slice of town where everyone feels welcomed.
Whether it’s jazz music playing on their outdoor speakers as you jog by, a bowl of fresh water for dogs ambling past on a hot day or seasonal sweets from Halloween treats to Christmas candy canes in a basket with a “Take one free” sign. Everyone feels a little better around the Repiccis.
One morning I was out for a walk and stumbled upon a line of young families having fall portraits taken in the Repiccis yard. I assumed Janice and Al had some connection to a preschool. Nope. Turns out for years they’ve welcomed members of a local nursery school to take family portraits on their picturesque property. They are delighted to share their beautiful view. Extending themselves to others just comes naturally.
A successful orthodontist for over forty years, Dr. Albert Repicci completed twenty-five service missions to Central and South America, India and far-flung destinations from Nepal to Mozambique. Providing not only dentistry, but often much needed basic medical care. (Al is also an author and playwright, with his production of Honor Bound performed Off-Broadway a few years ago.) Janice accompanied him on several mission trips. And while raising their two children, she volunteered for the PTA, school activities, Brownies and nonprofits in town like Meals on Wheels. Today, the couple’s favorite role is that of grandparent to their two grandchildren.
Although the Repiccis very much avoid the spotlight, I believe shining a light on the bright spots of our town inspires others to be their best. When I recently spent some time interviewing the couple in their home, I couldn’t help but notice every passerby—moms with strollers, joggers, kids on bikes—looking toward the window for an Al sighting and a wave.
Al sees everyone walking by his home as an opportunity to connect—be it a friendly wave or a chat. In his book, Nantucket Musings, Al explains that his philosophy is simple: “Keep faith with our kids … Never pass a lemonade stand!” Reflecting on that today, he adds; “Metaphorically speaking, if you keep your eyes open, there is a world of ‘lemonade stands’ out there, and many of them don’t even sell lemonade.”
If Covid taught us anything, it’s the importance of community bonds. Consider taking a page from the Repicci playbook and add a little more neighbor to your ’hood this year.
A walk by the Repicci’s home means something sweet is often available. Whether it’s candy hearts for Valentine’s Day or chocolate Easter eggs to greet spring, the Repicci’s leave a bowlful on a small table by the road. Walkers stop to take a treat and wave with a thank you. On hot summer days, animal lover Janice leaves a dog bowl filled with fresh water and a sign “Cool drinks for hot dogs.”
Keep it Simple
It’s about the connection. What makes their gestures so meaningful is the sincerity.
Janice and Al are delighted to get to know their neighbors and watch families grow up. We can all be more neighborly with a little more eye contact and a friendly hello as we see others on our street.
Root for the Runners
Their home is a prime spot on the Riverside Run route. Al has music playing, and Janice is outside with flags cheering for runners—rain or shine. If you’re along a route of a run or bike race, make an event out of cheering on the participants.
Don’t Hide in the Backyard
If you want to foster a sense of community, spend a little time out front. During the pandemic, we saw so much more of that. I have one neighbor who hosted a drop-in game of corn hole on their front lawn at the end of each day. Other neighbors sat on once-dusty front porches just to say hello. Consider inhabiting your front real estate a little more.
Be the Welcome Wagon
Does anyone remember the days when you moved into a new neighborhood and someone would come over from the Greenwich Welcome Wagon and give you coupons and info about the neighborhood? Yes, that used to happen. Now that the tradition is long gone, be your own welcome wagon. Stop by with a plant, baked good, bottle of olive oil or just a simple note with your contact info for questions about the area.
If you have a neighborhood association, take a turn on a committee. If you don’t, create opportunities for camaraderie. Plan to plant flowers in a communal area and invite others to join you. Al spearheads a contest each spring to challenge residents to be the first to spot the return of the local egret to Willowmere Pond. The winner gets a potted daffodil—but everyone wins when they open their eyes to the signs of spring sprouting up all around.
Al remembers one of the first impromptu events they hosted after moving to Willowmere. It started with his simple gesture of shoveling a section of the local pond for family skating, hot chocolate and a little bonfire.
The days when area ponds freeze may be gone, but there are plenty of other ways to create casual friendly gatherings. It could be a pile of chalk in the driveway inviting kids to decorate the blacktop, a pick-up basketball game at your hoop or a card table with a jug of free lemonade to pass out while you make conversation on a hot day.
Plan a Neighborhood Event
When living on Bramble Lane, we had an active group of neighbors who all picked a holiday. No homeowners association, just an informal group that rotated holidays and events for the kids.
We hosted the Easter egg hunt. Every year we filled bags full of treats, picked a date, hid eggs in the morning and invited the neighborhood kids to descend for the hunt. An inexpensive Easter Bunny costume from Party City lasted for years, and a neighborhood teen or visiting aunt would dress up and lead the kids on the hunt and take photos with the beaming basket bearers.
Fall pumpkin decorating was hosted by another neighbor, and someone else enlisted the local kids to create a fun haunted house in their garage.
Every summer for a day, Bramble Lane was closed for an old-fashioned pot luck block party where everyone mingled and kids played in the street. Each event inspired other neighbors to pick an idea and make it their own.