When I was 4 years old, my family built a house out in the sticks. There were five houses total on our side of the road, each on a 5-acre lot, and across the street was nothing but a huge, lush horse pasture.

My sisters and I had so much space to roam. We spent countless hours playing catch in the yard, throwing rocks in the field, and climbing the stack of hay bales when Grandpa (who lived next door) wasn’t around to cuss us out. We bottle fed the baby lambs, learned to drive on the big ol’ diesel truck while delivering hay to the cattle in the field, and rode horses until they bucked us off into piles of dried manure.

It was an idyllic upbringing, out there all on our own. But in classic “the grass is always greener” style, I was envious of my friends who lived in neighborhoods. From what I could tell, neighborhoods were nonstop block parties and night games and impromptu play dates. In a neighborhood, you could jump on the trampoline at one house, climb a tree at another, and raid the fridge stocked with soda at yet another house.

I loved my childhood, solitude and all. But I adore my adulthood with its cacophony of children playing outside, neighbors knocking on the door, and soda cans popping open as neighborhood kids raid the backyard fridge. It’s just as magical as I’d imagined as a child. It’s a true gift to have good neighbors and a joy to strive to be a good neighbor in return.

Soon, residents in one neighborhood will have the distinct opportunity to be good neighbors to Moscow’s first ever Oxford House, a home for individuals recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction. Latah Recovery Center recently purchased a house in a neighborhood off Mountain View Road and will be making renovations so it can house seven men in recovery. There are currently only four Oxford Houses in Idaho, but there are 354 in Washington and more than 2,000 throughout the United States. Since 1975, Oxford Houses have provided a safe environment and structure for individuals with addictions to get back on their feet and achieve sustainable sobriety.

Some individuals who live nearby are worried the occupants of the Oxford House won’t be good neighbors. Their concerns range from apprehension that the yard won’t be well kept to fears that the inhabitants pose a threat to children.

On Monday, Moscow’s city council voted to award Latah Recovery Center a $25,000 grant to help offset the cost of the Oxford House. During its deliberations, councilor Julia Parker appropriately identified these negative attitudes as short sighted. “I think the attacks on the people that could be living in the Oxford House are unfair,” she said. “Addicts and alcoholics are your friends and neighbors and your relatives.”

Parker is absolutely correct. Given the prevalence of substance abuse, few neighborhoods don’t already have someone struggling with addiction. Addiction is a trial, a cross many among us bear. It’s not an indication of a deviant individual with criminal proclivities. It doesn’t make any one of us less deserving of neighborly kindness.

I have faith in the people of Moscow. In the coming weeks or months when the house is ready and individuals on the path to recovery start moving in, I just know that someone will show up with a welcoming plate of cookies. Someone else will help fix a stubborn lawn mower. People will shake hands and exchange numbers. Friendships will be formed, support offered.

None of us, even when we live out in the sticks, get to choose our neighbors. All of us, regardless of where we live, get to decide what kind of neighbors we will be. When the Oxford House is up and running, and when, fingers crossed, many more open in our community, we can and should choose to dismiss our preconceived notions about recovering addicts. We can put aside the prejudices we have and, instead of fault-finding, we can focus our energies on being the best neighbors we can be.

If we all tried that, regardless where we live or who we live by, I think we’ll find the grass greener on both sides of the fence and our neighborhoods will feel less like a collection of houses and more like a community of homes.

Stellmon set sail for a three-hour tour on the Palouse in 2001. She is now happily marooned in Moscow with her spouse and five children.

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