Weaving a Grass Roots Safe Net of People Helping People
Who would have ever thought that something so simple as connecting people in need with their neighbors would brand me as a rebel. My need to get connected to a system of support became my calling that resulted in growing a family support network around the world. Here is my story. I wove an international network of Good Neighbors who pool and share resources because agencies won't connect people to each other. Policies prevent them from connecting people to people...they can only connect people to organizations or programs. People need each other and are perfectly capable of helping one another. Did you know that poverty would not exist if people were connected to each other? Agency staff are forbidden to have a caring relationship with their clients. This is dictated by the Code of Ethics. The time has come to shift the caring paradigm from agencies "fixing" people to neighbors "caring" for one another just as tribes care for their members. In 1993, I gathered a small group of neighbors together in Bothell, Washington and we started a Family Support Network at a local school. Ten years later this small group grew into a network of over 1,500 Good Neighbors representing 26 countries that speak 37 languages. In 2006, Good Neighbors provided over 175,000 volunteer hours, valued at $2.6 million of in-kind services on a budget less than $12,000. With budget cuts and the rising demand for services we must find more effective ways to engage people to take responsibility for each other. People can reach across social economic barriers and lend a helping hand. The reward far surpasses the action of helping someone. The network cradled me and helped me raise 4 children after their father abandoned them. The local agency I asked for help from when we were struggling to make ends meet treated me like I was broken and needed to be fixed. I wasn’t broken, I just needed to be connected to caring neighbors. The caseworker told me that confidentiality and liability policies prevented her from connecting me to people. She could only connect me to programs. It was in that moment that I knew what my purpose was. To weave a grass roots safety net. Volunteers stepped forward and designed a web-based technology at www.GoodNeighbors.net that enabled Good Neighbors to pool and find the resources they needed to help themselves and others. It's free to use as our contribution to save our children's future. Local agencies now tap the network of Good Neighbors to help their clients. Today, caseworkers encourage clients to get involved in the Good Neighbors Network and connect with their neighbors. In 2007, I received the Jefferson Award, the mini-Nobel prize for public services for my efforts. I only did what I felt called to do…weave community to save our children’s future. What is most rewarding is my children feel like they are part of a big extended family from all corners of the world.