I was driving to the church building when my tire blew out. It was around 90 degrees that afternoon and I hadn’t noticed that the tire was deflated. The dangerous combination of heat and air caused the pressure inside of the tire to increase until… BAM! The unmistakable sound of what used to be a tire flapping loudly across the road. This was not the sound I wanted to hear while struggling toward the shoulder.
Unfortunately, I didn’t even have a spare tire. I was on my way to film a bible study with my preacher so I gave him a quick call and asked for a ride.
As soon as the phone call ended, a notification from work came through. The first NeighborLink fundraiser I had been involved with had finished. To my surprise, it had ended more than two weeks early. In fact, it had taken less than eight hours for the community to donate the entire amount, plus an additional $1,000 for good measure. It took less than one day for the community to transform the life of one of our neighbors in need.
So there I was, stranded on the side of the road while waiting for my ride to pick me up. Despite my situation, I was grinning from ear to ear. My circumstances were certainly not ideal, but how could I complain when such an incredible event had just taken place? In that moment, reality sunk in: I knew that I was right where I was supposed to be. Not on the side of the road, necessarily, but on the path that God had put me on. It was a place where flat tires couldn’t even get me down. It was one of those moments I’ll never forget. A moment when the phrase “joy in the midst of suffering” became fully relatable.
But getting to this point was not as simple as I had hoped. I can trace that experience all the way back to a year and a half before this moment. . .
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
I may have read those words a thousand times during my senior year at Bowling Green State University. Back then, I was an anxious kid in Northwest Ohio afraid of what the future would hold. I had no idea what to do after graduation. I was living in fear for months and that was BEFORE a worldwide pandemic derailed everyone’s plans. Countless nights of job hunting and resume building kept me awake until early morning, the entire process started to feel fruitless. After each late night, Graduation Day was one step closer and I had made no progress whatsoever.
Thankfully, God had placed people of faith in my life who reassured me that everything would be okay. They encouraged me and reminded me that God had a greater plan than my anxiety would ever give Him credit for. I found comfort in knowing He held a lamp to guide my path. While I couldn’t see the destination where God was leading me, He lit every step clearly enough to allow me to walk by faith.
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalms 119:105
I believed that Fort Wayne was the city where I wanted to move to; my close friends and family helped make that an easy decision. Night after night, I emailed dozens of videographers around town. Thanks to their selflessness I was able to find a sense of direction. Based on what they told me, there was plenty of video work to be done in the area. Many of them even said they would reach out should anything come up. Still, that was no guarantee. With graduation inching closer and closer to reality, I thankfully was able to hear back from one of them. Apparently, there was a nonprofit in Fort Wayne called NeighborLink that was searching for a full-time videographer.
And so, I sent in my application and then I waited…
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
This is a verse that still hangs on a chalkboard in my grandma’s kitchen. She had written it a few years before she passed away. Throughout her life, she not only lived this truth, but made sure that I and the rest of her grandkids did the same. I’m sure that in the months leading up to college, she was in heaven repeating this verse to me, confident that I would be okay. She may have left us, but her encouragement and confidence in me has transformed my life more than I can ever express.
Before I knew it, I received an email from NeighborLink asking for an interview. Then, I had an invitation to shoot a few videos on freelance as a final step before officially getting the full-time position. As soon as I heard the news, I packed my bags and moved to Fort Wayne. Sure, it was the middle of a pandemic, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass me by.
It didn’t take long for me to realize what my job was really all about. Yes, I was filming videos, but more importantly, I was called to share our organization's unique stories and humanize the important work of NeighborLink. I also get to work with other local nonprofits through Neighboring Productions and help them find their own voice through video storytelling. Each day I am privileged to share the stories of our neighbors and I get to help shine a light on all of the good that is being done in the Fort Wayne area.
Too often, the world pushes negativity into each story and headline. After all, it's easier to get clicks and views when you go low and ugly. Thankfully, I am put into a position to spread positivity. Throughout this past year, I have found that my attitude and outlook on life has shifted. Even in the worst of situations, I couldn’t help but see the light, life, and love that God creates... even after an exploding tire left me stranded on the side of the road!
Still, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sadness all around us. I’ve met homeowners who live in the margins of society, people who have been hurt by the world, and neighbors who have lost all hope in humanity. However, I believe God shows up in EVERY situation, even in the absolute worst of them. When a volunteer steps into a neighbor’s life, I’ve seen how both lives can be changed for the better. Every homeowner I have had the honor of interviewing has seen the love of God enter their lives through those volunteers and vice versa. Every day I am surrounded by evidence that proves NeighborLink’s mission of “practical, neighbor-to-neighbor expressions of God's love” is not just a phrase, but a visible truth.
One thing that has stood out to me this year has been the power of small things: small acts of kindness that can transform the world. There is something powerful when an individual gives from their resources to help someone else. Even though I don’t work on projects as often as our volunteers, I feel myself growing as a person; and most importantly, as a follower of Christ. For much of what I do, I am looking from the outside in. Still, I feel blessed that I can take the time to sit and chat with our neighbors and hear their stories. I’m honored that they allow me to share their experiences. I pray that I give them and their stories the justice they deserve.
It's an honor to be part of this amazing team. Thank you to all of the staff, both present and past, who have made this the best place to work. Thank you to our volunteers who show me every day what real love in motion looks like. Thank you to my neighbors who demonstrate what real faith looks like. Thanks to everyone who has and continues to help me navigate this life and all it has to teach me... even when it occasionally hands me a flat tire.
Think back to a time when you were lost when trying to go somewhere new. Did you stop a stranger and ask for assistance? Odds are you pushed through until you figured it out on your own or got even more lost. Things could have been so much easier if you would have stopped and asked for help. So why didn’t you? In her book "Reinforcements," Heidi Grant goes into detail about why it is so hard to ask for help.
1) It makes us feel bad
The thought of walking up to someone and asking for help is enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but there’s more to it. Our brains can take the social pain of asking for help and turn it into physical pain. Think about the idea of a broken heart or a pit in your stomach. Those are physical reactions to social stimuli. The same thing happens when we have to put ourselves out there and ask for help. The threat of pain after being rejected or thought of being incompetent is too much for many people to bear. Instead, we’d rather figure it out on our own.
2) We assume others will say no
When I was a kid, I always tried to beat my dad in the basketball game HORSE. Of course, he’d go easy on me and let me score a few baskets, but he’d always win. Eventually, I started to wonder if there was even a point. Why do something if you're destined to fail? We get the same feeling about asking for help. We assume that people won’t help us and that everyone will say no. This feeling is even stronger after we’ve already been turned down once. Why even ask if they’re just going to say "no"? Fortunately, that’s not true. According to several studies, people are much more likely to say "yes" than we assume. Also, just in case you’re wondering, I can now beat my dad in HORSE.
3) We assume asking for help will make us less likable
Nobody wants to be the weakest link on the team or feel like they’re a burden to those around them. We, as humans, naturally care what people think of us. We hope to project an image of confidence and competence. When we have to lower ourselves and ask those around us for help, we lose that persona. It can harm our own self-image and we assume it affects how our peers see us. Again, that’s not really true. Think about the last time that someone asked you for help. Did you think less of that person or resent them in any way? The answer is most likely no. However, the fragile idea of self-image causes us to avoid asking for help.
Nobody can deny that asking for help is a hard thing to do. It causes intense discomfort, and most people would rather avoid it altogether. Sometimes, however, we have no other option. At NeighborLink, part of my job is to talk with homeowners who are in need of help and post their requests on the website. Every day I talk with people who have fought through everything listed above to ask a stranger for help. That can’t be easy. NeighborLink provides a place where volunteers can go to help their neighbors. Hopefully, we can also provide a place where it is easier to ask for help. #LoveThyNeighbor
For several years, NeighborLink has partnered with the City of Fort Wayne’s Division of Community Development/Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services to help execute a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is common for home repair needs of our neighbors to exceed the skills of our volunteers. The funds from this grant are used to secure the skilled labor needed to support our volunteer efforts.
Funds are limited to $7,500 per project and the homeowner must qualify for the program. Qualification for CDBG dollars is based on income and then initiation/completion is based on the order in which NeighborLink volunteers select projects and notify NeighborLink staff of a need for contractors. If costs exceed $7,500, a homeowner can pay or fundraise for the balance.
Projects have included roof replacements, exterior painting, foundation repairs, tree removal, siding replacement, and more. Each project has a special meaning to the homeowner, who often has no other options to complete the repairs. Deb’s project was no exception.
Deb has some health and mobility issues making even just maneuvering around her two-story house a laborious task. Like many older homes, the only bathroom is on the second floor and lacks proper features to assist with accessibility. Deb had a small, stand-up, single shower stall that became virtually impossible for her to use. Without access to a proper bath or shower, Deb's mobility issues began to take over her life. Not to mention, all while being confined to her home in a pandemic except for doctors' appointments. (As we have said before, COVID-19 has been particularly hard on the disabled and elderly, who were already experiencing high levels of isolation.) Deb's neighbor reached out to us to see if we could help remodel her bathroom. Deb qualified for the CDBG grant and our work began.
We secured quotes from several contractors with the goal of replacing Deb’s shower with a walk-in tub. We moved forward with Windows, Doors & More (WDM) to do the work. The total estimate exceeded the limit and they worked with us to get it under $7,500. We arranged for volunteers to complete the demo work under budget.
A few weeks before Christmas, our volunteers completed the demo, and WDM worked their magic to prep the bathroom and install a new, jetted, walk-in tub for Deb. We are very grateful for the work of WDM. While the basic features of the tub worked, they initially had issues with the electrical in connecting the jets. (Old homes + old electrical = no fun for anyone.) Their crew worked tirelessly, coming back four times until they were able to get it all functioning.
I had the privilege to check-in on Deb after the tub’s installation. I cannot begin to describe the change I saw in Deb's demeanor since being able to enjoy her own bathtub (and even before the jets were fixed). She was beaming! Her face was brighter. Deb told me how she could even see improvement in her skin and circulation. The tub, combined with the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine, brought hope to Deb after a year of seemingly unending hopelessness. She felt motivated to tackle a few other projects she had been delaying. To have had even the smallest part in facilitating this hope for Deb was quite an immense feeling for me. It has been my pleasure getting to know Deb and hearing her crazy stories of her previous adventures (she went to Woodstock!). She has sent several texts and notes professing her immense gratitude. We were equally happy to be able to utilize this program to help.
Small things really do change neighborhoods, and—equally important—neighbors.