During these hottest of hot days of summer, I find myself thinking about my old neighborhood in Woodstock, Illinois. We lived on a quiet street right behind the library and a short walk from the Dairy Queen. As a child, summer days were spent with friends pondering whether to walk to the town square and act like grown-ups or ride our bikes to the pool and act like the silly kids we really were.
But what I remember most about that quiet street we lived on is that we knew our neighbors. Not only did we know each other – we actually spoke to each other, spent time together, and helped each other when tough times arose.
© Antonio Jiménez Alonso
Do you still experience this luxury? Sadly, my husband and I do not. Don’t get me wrong – I love our home and the beautiful park across the street, and I feel safe here. But if, for example, one of us became ill and the other needed help with caregiving, I can’t imagine asking any of our neighbors for a hand. Maybe we just haven’t been here long enough, or maybe times have changed.
Either way, I think it speaks to a societal shift toward the need to make community efforts more formal in order to increase participation. In other words, while it would be awkward to walk next door and ask a neighbor to sit with your ill relative for a few hours so you could go to the store, having that neighbor sign up to do so through an online program organized by the neighborhood seems perfectly natural these days.
That’s why Lotsa Helping Hands gets props for introducing an open community model to its well-established online caregiving site. If you haven’t heard of Lotsa Helping Hands, let me back up.
Up until recently, Lotsa Helping Hands only allowed families to create private online communities to help them organize caregiving responsibilities. For instance, if Dad is sick, Mom can create a private community and only invite her close family and friends to be a part of it -- others cannot find it. The family can volunteer online to take on various caregiving responsibilities, provide updates, and coordinate tasks so that overlap is minimal and help is maximized. The tool is free and I’ve personally heard rave reviews about it from several families.
The private communities are still available, but now Lotsa Helping Hands has added the option of creating open communities. In this new model, several families in a neighborhood can be helped at once by drawing upon the resources of neighbors.
For example, Mrs. Smith is ill and Mr. Smith needs help caring for her, but he doesn’t have a close network of family and friends to support him. In the open community model, others in the neighborhood who want to volunteer can search for families near them and sign up to help, even if they don’t know them (yet).
You might be skeptical as to whether people would really do this (I’m not accusing you of being down on the human race when the truth is that we often don’t see enough examples of this in our daily life). Fortunately, Lotsa Helping Hands reports that the open community model has already taken off. Neighborhoods, schools, churches, and other groups are creating open communities as a way of leveraging their resources to help those in need.
The idea is cool, innovative, and necessary. We live in a society with risks of isolation and separateness all around us. Just as it’s all too common for co-workers to send emails to each other instead of walk down the hall to speak face-to-face, it’s become unnatural to reach out to our neighbors just because it feels good. With a structured online tool in place, perhaps neighborhoods can actually get to know each other again, like mine did in little old Woodstock.
If you try Lotsa Helping Hands, let me know how it goes.