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Nauset Neighbors a helping hand

Dina Harris  | Published on 11/3/2014

Nauset Neighbors a helping hand

By Dina Harris


Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a refugee from Nazi Germany, appalled by the racism he found in the U.S., became a passionate supporter of the civil rights movement. In 1963, he joined Martin Luther King in the March on Washington. As he began his speech, Rabbi Prinz told the crowd, "Neighbor is not a geographic term! It is a moral concept."

I have geographic neighbors. I am a person with Parkinson's disease. After my gregarious husband passed away, my nearest neighbors began to check in on me — when we lose power, or if I am snowed in. I know them by name, and am grateful for their concern. My sister- in-law, wanting to help, told me about a nonprofit group she found, called Nauset Neighbors. I didn't pursue it. I was trying to get my life into some kind of order.

But my sister-in-law is persistent. I am now going into my 17th year since diagnosis with Parkinson's disease. I have some household help; but more tasks are getting harder. "Had I called yet?" she asked. No longer resisting, I did.

Nauset Neighbors is an all-volunteer organization whose mission is to help elderly people from Wellfleet to Chatham, live in their homes for as long as they can. N/N offers rides to doctor's appointments, shopping trips, social visits, handyman services and desk work.

So, for the ridiculously low fee of $70 per year, for a single person, I signed up, and I started off using their volunteer driver services to some doctor's appointments in Hyannis. All the drivers, they said, are checked out for safe-driving records, vetted by CORI, are insured, and use their own cars. The person giving me a ride called the night before as I was told they would, and N/N sent me an email confirming this person's name and contact information. I was still nervous; I was waiting for a stranger.

With my disease, getting in and out of a car is often an engineering marvel. It also requires patience and cooperation by both the driver and myself. I have worked out this dance with friends; however, it can be daunting with a stranger — for both of us. But right from the git-go, Nauset Neighbors sent me volunteers from a pool of friendly, gracious superstars. I did not know them, but soon discovered that they all had worked in interesting professional careers.

The first driver was a retired history professor, who had an amazing childhood growing up in different countries. Then a biologist, whose career ranged from small lab work to heading a large cancer research facility in Boston; a physicist, still teaching part-time on both coasts; a psychiatrist; and a psychologist, volunteering elsewhere as well, counseling people during the stress of holidays. All of the rides were delightful adventures. I met compassionate and articulate people with a sense of humor.

And not one of them was a geographical neighbor. I wanted to ask them why they volunteered, but felt it too personal a question to ask on a first meeting.

Why do I want to help people? It is who I am, I thought. "To thine own self be true" Shakespeare wrote "And it must follow, as the night the day/ Thou canst not then be false to any man." Not bad, for a moral concept.

Dina Harris, a playwright, lives In Wellfleet. Nauset Neighbors can be reached at 508-514-7067 and