Reflections With Robert - The First Four Months - May 22, 2020
It’s hard to believe that the four month anniversary of my one year term at NeighborLink came and went yesterday. Even harder to believe is the fact that half of my tenure has been spent working from home, with 25% of that total spent in flux as my family jumped from one Airbnb reservation to the next.
From where I stand today, January is a lifetime of memories long past. I feel aged and older, having grown a countless number of ways. The terms “neighbor” and “neighboring” have become commonplace words for not only me, but my family as well. I look at people differently. The same could be said for houses, too. Compassion for others has risen to the surface in ways I haven’t experienced since my years of living overseas.
It’s amazing what can happen while immersed in a culture such as NeighborLink.
I’ve spent the last couple of days reflecting on these first four months. My emphasis has settled on the most meaningful life-shifts experienced during my time as NeighborLink’s Storytelling and Journalism Coordinator by way of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Although the entire four month period has been eye-opening and laced with profound discoveries (with side helpings of heartbreaking and soul-shattering sights thrown in), I’ve compiled the three most enlightening ones that have carved deep lessons of life, love, kindness, and neighboring into my heart.
My First Ride Along
My first ride along came early in my third week at NeighborLink. It was an experience I was ill-prepared for.
The first part of the morning provided context for all of the minutiae that goes into getting most projects off of the ground. Aside from taking my first trip to Home Depot in who-knows-how-long, it provided a glimpse of how and where ramps are built by NeighborLink volunteers.
The second half of the day was spent visiting a handful of neighbors undergoing special projects. Two of these visits struck like lightning bolts, leaving me permanently charred. Both helped me fully grasp the value NeighborLink brings to the disadvantaged, alone, and hurting. Also significant were the lasting relationships that had formed between two pair of neighbors and volunteers we visited, and the fact that each struggling homeowner - despite such hardships as blindness and brain cancer - radiated with pure joy.
As we returned to the office for the day, I sat in the back of the truck in silence. Sure, it was difficult to hold myself together, but the most striking thing of all was the first true realization of where my job would take me moving forward. It was humbling, scary, and exciting.
One of my goals for February was to sit down with a homeowner in need and listen to their story. My hope was to create a moving portrayal that would penetrate the hearts of viewers while conveying the ultimate reason NeighborLink exists- all within the span of 3 to 4 minutes.
After finding our neighbor, I set out with NeighborLink’s videographer, Steve, to capture the story Out of the Woods. On the way to the home site, I felt vastly unprepared for the task. Not only was it my first actual storytelling project, but it was my first trip to a homesite without someone else to lead and direct me along. I was nervous, uncertain, and hopelessly afraid. I hoped I would not embarrass myself but was sure I would stumble over my words and fail to portray what was in my head.
As soon as I stepped into the house, all of my worries disappeared. Not only were the homeowners gracious and kind, but it only took two minutes for us to find a myriad of similarities between ourselves. Because of that, we spent nearly two hours talking, laughing, and crying as if we had known each other for years. Upon leaving their house, I felt so humbled and honored that God would gift me with such a special morning. I found it difficult to speak the rest of the day, such was the impact those two hours had on my life.
Stepping Up to the Challenge
Shortly after moving into our new house, my wife had the brilliant idea to create and distribute face masks for workers serving on the frontlines during the nationwide lockdown. Having seen other fantastic ideas of hers like this in the past, I knew I would be sorry if I failed to capture her story and share it with as many people as possible.
Although the video was shot when she was only getting started, her vision quickly took root and bloomed with unexpected results. She was immediately swamped with requests from all across the country. Despite the extra time and effort required from her project, she continued to pour herself into it day after day despite working a full-time job while being a mother and wife.
Her determination and persistence has always been an inspiring sight to behold. I cannot help but be motivated when I see her passion, work ethic, and grit. This time around it prompted me to come up with a neighborly goal of my own. Shortly after we filmed her NL Stories video, I launched a fundraiser to help those suffering through a lockdown-related hunger crisis in the Philippines. Although my goal was to raise $400 for food distribution, donors contributed $1700 to people on the other side of the world they had never met before. At the foundation of this all was my wife's incredible drive to step up to the plate in a desperate time of need and do something about it. I would have never come up with the idea for the fundraiser if it wasn’t for her example, as portrayed in the video above.
While the first third of my year has come and gone in a flash, the lessons I've learned have been invaluable. I can’t wait to see what the next four months bring to the table as spring turns into a very busy summer of neighboring. My only hope is that my skills and talents as a writer and storyteller can do it all justice.