Denfeld News

Dec. 2, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

Duluth woman starts online group for people to share neighborly help
By Linda Hanson

Helping your neighbors in times of need once was commonplace.

But with people leading such busy lives, sometimes people don’t know their neighbors, much less turn to them for help.

Summer Emison, 34, of Duluth is trying to rekindle the practice of neighborly help through an online group she started in August called Helping Neighbors With Open Hearts.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Helping-Neighbors-with-open-hearts

She got the idea from Freecycle.org, where people post listings of items they want to give away instead of throwing in the landfill. She’s a moderator for the local Freecycle group. She realized that people had more than things to give away — they had help to offer.

Emison, 34, said she envisions the online group as a place where people could offer to shovel the sidewalk of an elderly neighbor or bring homemade soup to a single mom or widow. “These are things people used to do for each other years ago,” she said.

Emison was born in Duluth and grew up five blocks from her current home in Duluth’s Lincoln Park/West End neighborhood.

Emison’s mother, Mary Lepak of Superior, said she always taught her kids that they have to help other people. She said she thinks her daughter’s idea to start an online group to do just that was excellent. “That girl has a big, big heart,” she said.

Lepak said she thinks that if the group catches on, it could make a big impact.

“If everybody sticks together and this really flies and all the neighbors know they can help or get help, that might help the problems we have in neighborhoods,” she said.

Emison said she is trying to raise her children the same way she was raised. She teaches her three sons, ages 9, 6 and 5, the value of helping neighbors by having them shovel the sidewalk of an elderly couple who live nearby, she said.

“There is always someone who needs help or someone who is offering to help,” Emison said.

Emison said she hopes that through the online group, people gain a better sense of community and the community will be a better place in which to live.

As the moderator of the online group, Emison screens the postings of free requests and offers. As with any site where strangers who meet online connect, there’s a safety issue, she said. She encourages people to use common sense about meeting strangers in person. For example, when she posts something on Freecycle.org and someone she doesn’t know comes by to pick it up, she leaves it outside on her porch.

The Neighbors Helping With Open Hearts group is still getting off the ground, but people have offered to do such things as tutor and teach cooking, she said.

One of the group’s ground rules is that no money be exchanged, but people can agree to exchange services.

A recent look at the site showed the postings of people who were willing to sing for an older person and make Christmas candy. Requests included someone who needs help with snow shoveling, another person who needs help creating a Web page and another who wants advice on how to weld.

Jessica Gilbert Redman said that after she and her husband moved to Duluth about a year and a half ago, she joined a few local online groups and found they were places she could get to know people and find out what was going on in town. That’s how she got to know Emison and learned about Neighbors Helping With Open Hearts.

Gilbert Redman said that as a newcomer to Duluth, it can be hard to connect with people who are willing to help you out.

“We get so used to being online or on our phone and isolated from other people. This is a way to combine being online with getting people together,” she said.

She said she and her husband have listed on the online group what they have to offer, including proofreading and editing (both have English degrees) and help with moving. “I think it’s an excellent way to get people to know other people,” she said about the online group.

Stacey Solem of Duluth said she has some physical ailments and finds it difficult to shovel snow, so she posted a request for someone to do that for her. She heard from a Hermantown woman who said her sons could help her out.

Although she can’t help with physical labor, she could help other people by driving them to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment, Solem said.

“It’s kind of an exchange of help instead of having to pay somebody. A lot of times people can’t pay to have someone shovel for them or pay for a cab,” she said.

She said she thinks the online group is a wonderful way to get people in the community working together — especially around the holiday season.

“We want people to know about this and know they are not alone, and if they need something there are people who can give them assistance,” she said.

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