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Good Neighbors

12/30/08 7:55AM By Kenneth Davis
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(HOST) As part of VPR's continuing effort to explore the ways in which we Reach Out to each other in hard times, commentator Ken Davis looks back on the big events of 2008 - and a few important stories that didn't make the news.

(DAVIS) Rising before dawn, a Vermonter set out to drive a disabled woman to and from a doctor's appointment 20 miles away.

On another day, a bunch of Southern Vermonters helped ferry a group of seniors from a scattering of nearby towns to a community holiday party. Many of the drivers and their passengers barely knew each other.

These stories didn't make the headlines, largely because they involved no highly paid athletes on the police blotter. No celebrities in rehab. And no federal bailouts.

These are, instead, just a few of those moments that that are often reduced to that bumper-sticker banality -- "random acts of kindness."

Nice idea. But in truth, we live in a time when random kindness doesn't cut it. We need something more than unplanned moments of charity - we need completely calculated acts of kindness.

And that is the spirit behind a large, but generally invisible, web of community-based efforts that sadly don't get enough attention for what they do - that is, reach out to neighbors in need. One of these is Manchester Center's Neighbor to Neighbor, a small, three-and-half year-old nonprofit group with about 75 volunteers helping mostly elderly care recipients.

That help can be as simple as getting the groceries or providing a ride to the doctor's office. But it also means bringing often lonely and remote seniors to social events, such as the annual Holiday Concert at a local school - part of the group's commitment to bridge the generations. With a focus on regular contact between care recipients and volunteers, Neighbor to Neighbor emphasizes building one-to-one relationships that often flourish into friendships. As Director Kate Coss puts it, "So many people are isolated, especially in rural Vermont. We try to give these people some connections."

Sometimes the need is more urgent, and referrals are made to other agencies, such as state health authorities. And of course, in the  current economy, the need is growing while resources shrink.

Neighbor to Neighbor works under the umbrella of Manchester's Interfaith Council whose congregations provide a large number of volunteers but no financing. But this isn't a bunch of Bible-thumping "do-gooders" offering soup bowls to the hungry after they sit through a sermon.

For the neighbor in need there's no "catch." No tracts, confessions, or pledges. Just simple acts of consideration, undertaken in the course of an ordinary day, with the goal of caring for neighbors, many of them with long-term health needs and no family network.

Unlike the slick speech-writing that has given us such catchphrases as "1,000 points of light" or "compassionate    conservative," Neighbor to Neighbor simply tries to provide those deliberate acts of kindness and sensible acts of decency that won't make the cover of People.

But the difference they make in the lives of ordinary Vermonters in need speaks to what the Hebrew prophet admonished thousands of years ago -- "to love justice and to do mercy." Or to what Jesus told his followers was among the essential commandments: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Or, in the simple words of a modern sage: "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."  As Fred Rogers always said. "Please won't you be my neighbor?"

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To learn more about Manchester Neighbor to Neighbor, click here: http://neighbortoneighborvt.org/
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