WESTBROOK — In the Brown Street neighborhood, residents are coming together for community-building over shared meals.

Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, a department of Opportunity Alliance, has begun hosting monthly dinners for residents living on and around Brown Street. The same organization is working on the neighborhood hub being constructed on Reserve Street.

“The real idea behind (the dinners) is to re-create that getting-to-know-your-neighbor opportunity so that people build relationships in their own communities so that strengths and challenges can be shared,” said CPPC Community Builder Brittney Sampson.

CPPC hosted its first Neighborhood Connection Night on Jan. 25. The dinners, which take place at St. Anthony’s Church on Brown Street, will be held on the fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m.

Sampson said with 80 people in attendance, she was very pleased with the turnout at the first dinner.

“That’s the neat thing about Westbrook,” she said. “You have an event, everyone will come to support it.”

CPPC has hubs and hosts Neighborhood Connection Nights in several other Maine cities and towns, with Westbrook being the newest addition. The Opportunity Alliance provided the food for the first dinner, but Sampson said CPPC hopes a business will step forward to sponsor future dinners.

Neighborhood Connection Nights are a great way for people to get to know each other and form relationships, she said.

“It’s great to have a space for people to gather,” she said. “It’s a great vehicle for communication and relationship building.”

Neighbor-to-neighbor relationships are important, Sampson said, because then people know who is living around them. When that happens, communities become stronger, she said. The goal is to change the way outsiders view Brown Street.

“My hope is to celebrate the neighborhood,” Sampson said. “The idea is to shift perspectives and instill neighborhood pride.”

Changing the way the neighborhood is viewed requires a lot of input from the people who live there.

“Ideally, the neighbors are the leaders of everything,” she said. “With every interaction I’m making sure I’m listening and not making decisions for them. Nobody needs to be fixed.”

The neighbors will also have a say over the use of the neighborhood hub, which is expected to be open by the end of May. The building will be used for neighborhood events and meetings, and is intended to be a small community gathering space.

“It can be whatever the neighbors want it to be,” Sampson said. “It can organically evolve.”

Sampson said one woman has already reached out to ask if she can host mothers nights there so moms can come together for support.

Neighbor-led initiatives are important, Sampson said, because it allows people to help each other. She said some organizations try to help people by doing everything for them, whereas CPPC empowers neighbors to do it themselves.

“It’s just a really neat way of helping that’s not the traditional way of helping,” she said. “It levels the playing field.”

Sampson said CPPC provides tools for people to make change in their lives, but ultimately wants the neighbors to determine what they need.

“My job is to stay out of the way and let things happen organically,” she said.

With only one Neighborhood Connection Night so far and a hub that’s not yet open, Sampson said she’s already seen compassion and a strong desire to help from the people living on Brown Street.

“The generosity in Brown Street (neighborhood) is breathtaking,” she said. “And Westbrook in general is a hugely generous community.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Brittney Sampson, of Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, said the neighborhood hub on Reserve Street is expected to open by the end of May. CPPC hosted its first Neighborhood Connection Night in the Brown Street area on Jan. 25.