By Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Matt Davies used the expression “Not in My Back Yard” in one of his cartoons. This brought back memories of a lesson that I taught at Plainview-Old Bethpage High School over 28 years ago.
The course: Occupations I.
The lesson: What does a real estate broker do?
As the students entered the classroom, they saw that the blackboard contained the 5-letter acronym, NIMBY. (Today I would be using an environmental friendly WHITEBOARD!) The NIMBY Syndrome describes the phenomenon in which residents of a community designate a new development (group home, affordable housing, etc.) or change in occupancy of an existing development as unwanted for their local area.
Who wants a jail, half-way house for convicts transitioning back to society, garbage dump, 7-11, drug rehabilitation center, or group home for disabled young adults in their backyard? The phrase “NIMBY” seems to have appeared first in the mid-1970s.
The fear? Such a structure will likely lead to decreased property values. It’s also fear of the unknown and fear of change. Residents often attend town meetings to express their discontent and anger.
I shared an article about a group home for people with disabilities which was to open in a nearby community. Local residents opposed the transaction with their NIMBY behavior.
I then drew an illustration of the U-shaped street where the group home was to open. The home was expanded and contained a pool. The students were told that the residents would be bussed out daily for training. The group home would provide life skills for its occupants.
Immediately, one student commented, “Boy, there’s going to be a lot of traffic on that once-quiet street. During the weekends parents, grandparents, siblings, and relatives would be visiting the residents. No more playing in the street!”
Another student said, “Who would want to buy the home next door to the group home? The seller would have to lower the price to make the sale. THAT’S NOT FAIR!” Other students expressed their fear: “Nobody with young children would buy THAT home!”
The 42-minute lesson ended. I thought of my NYU professor, Dr. Helen Reynolds. Yes, my tuition was $25 a credit. She always said that “lessons will never be perfect. The key to a successful lesson was student activity and discussion.” By those standards the class discussion was a big success. Everyone had an opinion.
Hopefully, the students understood that group homes go a long way in helping students develop the skills they need.
F-A-S-T F-O-R-W-A-R-D 25 years. I’m in my local Bagel Boss store asking the counter help to scoop out the kishkas from an “Everything Bagel” to save calories. In walks a female student who sat in that classroom so many years ago. She said THREE WORDS that made me so happy: “MRS. WOLFE. NIMBY.”
I wonder whether this lesson taught her that group homes for people with disabilities—located in a residential setting — meet an important social need. If it did, then this was the PERFECT LESSON.
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of two books on Yiddish: Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction? Yiddish Trivia and Yiddish for Dog and Cat Lovers.