Being a good neighbor is more than just sparing a cup of sugar or lending a ladder. Whether it’s taking turns cooking dinner once a week or stepping in to care for someone who is sick, neighbors can become an extended family. Here, ALL YOU readers share stories about the extraordinary people on their block who went above and beyond, lending a helping hand in hard times and strengthening their community.
‘My neighbors supported one another during a catastrophic flood’ - Melissa Garcia, 35, Edmond, Okla.
Two months after we moved into our house in Edmond last year, a devastating flood tore through our neighborhood. That June morning, I remember thinking there was an awful lot of rain. When I phoned home to check on my son, who was then 10, he screamed that there was water everywhere. I raced home in a panic, and when I finally reached my street, there were so many fire trucks and ambulances lined up I couldn’t see my house.
As the water kept rising, my husband, Daniel, was doing what he could to help. He and two men from the neighborhood freed an elderly woman who was trapped in her car. Daniel also carried the 2-year-old son of our next-door neighbor across the water while
she grabbed what she could from their house. We all raided our closets for blankets to pass around, since everyone was so cold from the water. We huddled together while we watched most of
our possessions float away. The water had risen, rushing over cars and flooding homes. We would need to replace our carpeting, our appliances and nearly all our furniture, which we had just bought for our new home.
The cleanup was a massive community effort. We had an overwhelming amount of help pour in from friends and family, as well as companies that donated cleaning supplies. My neighbor Karla Smith was one of the people who became advocates for the neighborhood, going door to door with information about rescue efforts and how to get flood assistance—even speaking with our congressman on our behalf. Karla and I became friends, helping each other deal with our losses, especially the sentimental belongings, like family photos and videos. We bonded the most with our neighbors over how tough it was to lose so much and to fight so hard to get any kind of assistance. Our family was about $50,000 in debt from structural damage to our home alone, and ours was not an uncommon story.
We’re finally living in our home again, but some of our neighbors are still rebuilding. Others might never return. We lost a lot, but out of this catastrophe we gained friends and a sense of community.
‘My neighbors saved me when my husband was battling cancer’ - Rosemary Wesela, 65, Joelton, Tenn.
When my husband, Gary, was first diagnosed with throat cancer, the doctors said he either wouldn’t survive or would never be able to swallow again. Those first two years of treatment were challenging for our family, but they would have been much harder if it weren’t for two of our neighbors, Pam Heintzman and Stephanie Taylor.
If my lights went on at 2 a.m., Pam called to see if I needed help. Knowing I barely had time to eat, much less cook, she’d tell me to pick up supper at her house. Stephanie works from home, and she would come over during the day to check on Gary. When I got home, I’d find a bouquet of fresh flowers—Stephanie knows I love them.
I didn’t think my neighbors could be any more special until the first Christmas that Gary was able to leave the house. We headed to my sister’s for Christmas Eve. Because we had been so preoccupied with Gary’s illness, we had not bothered to put up a tree or decorations in our home.
When we returned from my sister’s that night we found a small, decorated Christmas tree on our kitchen table surrounded by beautifully wrapped gifts, plus bowls of food, delicious-looking pies and a note. We were dumbfounded. The note said, ‘Merry Christmas from Pam and Stephanie! There’s a ham in the fridge. Enjoy your Christmas dinner.’ We both cried. I realized they had waited until we left and, like a pair of Santa’s elves, set about making Christmas wonderful for us.
Today Gary is a cancer survivor, and I believe I am a “caregiving survivor” because of Pam and Stephanie. They were more than neighbors. They were angels who helped me if I faltered. I don’t think I would have been able to come through our ordeal without them.
‘My neighbor united our community in friendship’ - Ashley Nuzzo, 30, Tallahassee, Fla.
When we moved to our street six years ago, we didn’t form any strong bonds with the neighbors. Everyone waved politely to one another but kept to themselves. That all changed in March 2009, when Reagan Ramsey, a single mom with two kids, rented the house across the street.
From the moment she arrived, she was a ray of sunshine. She greeted everyone with a friendly smile and was quick to offer to watch a neighbor’s kids or help with any errand. Reagan loved to cook (she was addicted to the Food Network and was always testing recipes), and she began to hold potluck dinners. I’ll never forget one dinner when she decided to make smoked turkey legs. She went out and bought a smoker but forgot that you need to start the smoking process quite early, not a few hours before dinner. It was a disaster! But community spirit triumphed and we all raided our pantries and pulled together a last-minute burger cookout. Reagan’s dinners became so popular that we were sharing meals with our neighbors as often as four times a week—something inconceivable before she arrived.
Although she moved away after a year and a half—she was offered a job in Colorado—she changed our neighborhood permanently. We were a group of people with very little in common, but she brought us all together. We still take leftovers to one another’s houses and check in regularly, all because Reagan touched our lives. My family is outgrowing our house, but I would never move. I love my neighbors too much to leave!