On Wednesday July 15th at 9:30 a.m. a small group of women gathered to share their NeighborLink experiences. All of these women had been helped at one time or another by NeighborLink volunteers. There was a shared experience, although each person's situation was her own. As an intern with NeighborLink, I have been able to observe and learn so many things about the power of a helping hand and the impact that empowering people to do more and give back can have. When I talk with home-owners on the phone and post their projects onto our website, I notice that although each person has a unique struggle specific to them, there are common felt threads of loneliness and powerlessness that pop up with each story. Many times a small part of the phone call is actually about the project, while the rest is conversation about what is going on in the life of the homeowner. After many calls, specifically with women, I started thinking that there had to be a way to play a sort of "matchmaker" to help these women try and find community. At the same time these thoughts were swirling in my head, Andrew talked with me about NeighborLink trying to develop new ways to connect with recipients and spur them on to becoming volunteers or giving back after being helped. That's when an idea popped into my head about having a women's gathering. The idea took some developing, but ended with inviting a small group of women who have previously received help through NL to come and share their experiences, gain some feedback from them about the process of seeking assistance through NeighborLink, invite the women to reflect on what they have to offer, and ultimately connect them to each other.That Wednesday morning, I wasn't sure what to expect. We had a small number of women coming and I didn't know how the women would respond to the questions and discussion. When we started, though, all of the women were more than willing to share openly when prompted and had significant input. We started with a time of connection and conversation over breakfast, and got to know each other a little bit.
After breakfast we asked for ways the women have previously engaged with someone by volunteering or serving. Everyone had one or more ways that they shared, that was uniqueto them individually. One woman said that she takes her dog to the Parkview Randallia hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays for patients to have therapeutic contact with her dog. Others said that they served with the Fort Wayne rescue mission, one woman gave up her holiday time with her family to serve there last Christmas. This was an affirmation to me that these women are capable of looking outside of their own situations and thinking of ways they are able to serve and implement their ideas. We then went into conversation about the women's experiences working with NeighborLink. When they talked about their experiences, everyone had positive feedback to share. Many had driveways shoveled last winter, leaves raked in the fall, grass mowed, and one woman had 3 doors installed in her home. Aside from the physical projects being completed, they shared that they received conversation, prayer, a feeling of faith being restored in humanity, friendship, being enabled to live their life because they were safely able to leave their home, and a sense of alleviating loneliness. When asked about the process of working with NL itself, someone stated that for her, knowing it is a Christian organization made her feel safer about letting strangers into her home.
Then, they were invited to look at what they have to offer back to their community and write it down. The women were eager and open to looking at ways they could serve and engage, specific to who they are. We then passed around encouragement cards to sign and fill out for women who are currently waiting for assistance themselves, one of the women in the gathering gave me $20 to give towards the women we were sending cards too. I was blown away, because she is currently waiting for help herself but was willing to give her money to these other women she doesn't know. Another interaction that stood out was two women who had met that morning, and by the end of the gathering were talking about cooking and bringing food to NeighborLink work sites together. This to me was what I had hoped, on a small scale, that this breakfast would do. Connect women, hear there stories, and spur them on to serve together. In the words of one of the women, Phyllis, "You can't imagine what it means to me to have had that group of volunteers come help me." I am grateful that each of those women chose to come that morning and share so freely with us. -Katie