Neighbors helping neighbors. It sounds simple, almost quaint, but given the mobility of homeowners — not to mention how often busy schedules leads to people not even knowing the people next door — it can be a hard goal to meet.
But as the 21st century leads our citizens to communicate more via technology than over the fence, a new way of neighbors helping neighbors was born.
“NeighborLink first started in 2003 as a means of building bridges between needs and resources,” said Megan Chandler, development coordinator for NeighborLink Fort Wayne. “It began when people wanted to help their neighbors but really didn’t know how. So it became a web-based solution, an internet bulletin board.”
The concept is as simple as the “neighbors helping neighbors” slogan itself. The website would post a variety of needs of people in any given area, and a team of volunteers would seek out ways that they could help.
The projects can be uploaded onto the NeighborLink website, appealing for an effort that may be outside someone’s abilities or financial means. And those projects can entail a wide range of skills to perform, skills the volunteers can readily match to their own.
“There are various types of projects on the list,” Chandler said. “They may need their lawn cut or snow shoveled. They may need roof repairs, a furnace replaced or auto repairs. There are gaps that all the different social services may miss, and those are the kinds of things we address because we have volunteers who have a wide range of abilities who are ready to help. There are projects that fall within a skill set and level that our volunteers can fill. And it’s a wide range of people who need our help. It can be senior citizens or single parents having a hard time making ends meet.”
Skin in the game
To whatever extent they can, NeighborLink provides a means for people to help themselves. The labor is always free. What people can pitch in beyond that is determined by their ability to financially handle some of the costs.
“Sometimes people need to have their houses painted, and an estimate may be $1,000 to $2,000 for that,” Chandler said. “But the labor of our volunteers is always free so maybe they can pay $100 to $200 for the paint, and then our volunteers take care of the labor. In that situation, they have some skin in the game and feel a sense of empowerment because they’ve paid for part of it but have had help in getting it done. If they’re in dire circumstances, then we find ways to raise the money to help.”
Some of those circumstances are so dire they may be the difference between staying or leaving their homes.
“We often help people who have code violations,” she said. “Some of them may be facing condemnation of the property or eviction. In those cases we’ve worked with the city to help bring those houses back up to code so that they can continue to live there and not be evicted from their homes.”
Funding for this endeavor comes from a variety of sources, including grants which NeighborLink applies for and receives to help fund projects that need money outside the labor cost covered by volunteer efforts. There are also a variety of volunteer groups, including a collection of athletes that serve as Team NeighborLink who hold a variety of sporting events and competitions — likes runs and bicycle events — that help raise funds through registration fees. But NeighborhoodLink also tries to hold events that not only raise funds but also friends, people who may want to offer their services as volunteers but aren’t familiar enough with the organization or the application process to get involved.
Corporations have also been a boon to NeighborLink, particularly when businesses decide to hold a day of service for their employees and look for a project that can be done together, a means of both team building for the staff and community service for the neighbors who benefit from their efforts.
Agen’s focus for the show
For example, the upcoming fundraiser concert with Addison Agen is co-sponsored by Brotherhood Mutual.
Bringing in local favorite Agen is a win-win on both sides.
“I was approached a few months ago about doing this, and I was really excited,” Agen said. “I love what NeighborLink is doing, and I think they have such an important mission. I’m always happy to be performing for a cause.”
Agen said she approaches any fundraiser for a cause, which represents at least one-fourth of all her performances to date, with a different mentality than she does most shows.
“I definitely look at it differently since I’m performing with a purpose, certainly a bigger purpose than just me. I shift the entire focus of the show, and I choose a setlist that I think reflects that focus. I actually chose a cover this time, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ by James Taylor, which I had never sung before because I think it really addresses the mission of NeighborLink.”
For those wondering what Agen has been doing in recent months, some of that will be apparent when she performs for NeighborLink. She had begun work on an album but realized that the songs reflected a point of view that was no longer her own. In the end, she opted to start fresh.
“I have finished working on all of the songs that will be on that album,” she said. “Now we’re touring some studios to find the one that will work to record. But the music I’m going to be playing at the NeighborLink show will be those songs I’ve finished for the album.”
For NeighborLink, bringing in Agen to perform is a perfect fit.
“We love her music and what she says in her songs,” Chandler said. “When we reached out to her, we were so excited when she was willing to take this on. We’re excited to partner with an artist who tells such a beautiful story. We’ve been blessed to get to know her. The Legendary Trainhoppers are also going to perform, and they’re such an energetic band. We’re just really excited and expect to have a fabulous event.”
How you can help
NeighborLink provides ways to help with your talent, time, and treasure. For ways to contribute to the cause, visit the website – http://nlfw.org – and click on “Volunteers” to find ways to contribute to the effort with the skills you have and ways you can help. Chandler said she and her family volunteers with yard work needs because her own young children can pitch in with raking and picking up sticks while the adults do the heavy lifting. Each of us has a variety of ways to volunteer, and NeighborLink is there to help you define those skills.
Or, for those less interested in donating their time and skills, there is also a link on the site for donating money which helps fund projects that our neighbors might wish they could afford but can’t. Those donations may be the difference between a project fulfilled and one that is not. No donation is too small.
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