Dec. 2, 2007
Duluth woman starts online group for people
to share neighborly help
By Linda Hanson
Helping your neighbors in times of need once was
But with people leading such busy lives, sometimes
people don’t know their neighbors, much less turn to them
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.
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,”
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
Gilbert Redman said that as a newcomer to Duluth,
it can be hard to connect with people who are willing to help you
“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
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.