By Linda White
When high school student Julia Lasker, an Acton-Boxborough senior, was given the assignment for a project that incorporated a component of community service, her choice to highlight the Neighbor Brigade was an easy one.
Polly Mendoza, Neighbor Brigade Executive Director explained, “This original play, ‘Neighbors’, was written, directed, and produced by Acton-Boxborough High School Senior Julia Lasker. Julia in fact also had to act out one of the main roles when one of the actresses came down with mono in the last weeks of production.”
Mendoza continued, “Julia was given a handful of options for stories of recipients and chose three main stories about recipients from the towns of Bedford, Needham, and Natick. She used components of their real-life situations and blended them together in a creative way. The play had the goal of revealing the often-hidden struggles and triumphs happening all around us and how our Neighbor Brigade chapter volunteers are making a difference for our recipients while bringing the community together as they support one another during a health-related crisis, or other crisis situations such as a fire, or grieving the loss of a family member.”
Alvaro Chavez played the role of Joey in Neighbors and was inspired by the story of Bedford resident Jeff Hoyland. Julia Lasker who wrote, produced and directed the play also portrayed Elise, a character inspired by a Natick recipient who chose to be anonymous.
Ava Jaros and Yasmine Langman played the roles of a Needham mother, Evelyn, and daughter, Caitlin, who were each helped by the Needham Brigade. Evelyn received assistance from a dedicated group of 16 volunteers who provided her with meals twice a week (55 total), weekly grocery shopping (24 total), and weekly library book runs from September 2015 until her passing in May 2106. Caitlin received help after her mother’s death from Brigade volunteers who helped with the daunting task of cleaning out her mother’s apartment including the donation of hundreds of her mother’s books to the Needham Library in a short time frame, following her mother’s passing. Jack Olson played the role of the nurse.
Mendoza summarized, “The performances were very successful in increasing awareness about Neighbor Brigade and highlighting some of the client stories. One of the defining moments at both the May 7 production at True West Art Gallery and the May 11 production at the Acton-Boxborough High School was at the end when the audiences were introduced to the real life “Joey”, Jeff Hoyland. You could audibly hear a gasp, as people connected that this, in fact, was based on true stories and the amazing triumphs that these “everyday” people had faced. Julia and many in the crowd during the Q&A noted that this production opened their young and admittedly sheltered eyes to what amazing triumphs people have overcome and the power of community when it works together.”
Hoyland has been both a Bedford Neighbor Brigade volunteer and a Neighbor Brigade client from February 2015 to November 2015 when the Brigade helped with 157 rides to medical appointments for his treatment of oral cancer. He recently shared his perspective on what the Neighbor Brigade means to him, “Shit happens. No one is prepared for when disaster happens. I started with the Neighbor Brigade after I had my first bout with oral cancer. You can be part of the solution by helping your neighbors. We all have skills we can share. For my daughter and me, it was walking big dogs in the snow for a neighbor who was going through cancer treatment. That may not sound like a skill. But when you see your neighbor’s face when you do something that they did not have the energy to do for themselves, it is your superpower. The other reason my daughter and I walked the dogs was so that my neighbor and I could sit down after the dogs came back indoors, and talk about cancer survivor things. Nothing earth-shattering, but sometimes it’s just nice to sit and chat. It makes a difference.”
Mendoza reflected, “In the play, there is mention of Jeff’s initial dreams of being a life coach being shifted after his diagnosis due to the change in his ability to verbally communicate, and hence he is now a phenomenal photographer, and I would say continues to be an inspiration to many.”
About The Bedford Neighbor Brigade: Neighbor Brigade, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, establishes and mobilizes networks of community-specific volunteers ready to help immediately and effectively when a crisis strikes due to illness, surgery, or tragedy. Services are currently available in 30 communities in New England.
The Chapter is open to all Bedford residents who find themselves in a temporary crisis where they could use the support of their community until they get back on their feet. This may be a cancer diagnosis, accident, surgery, death, or other crisis situation. Some families have a support system of friends and family ready to step in and help, but many do not. And often even if they do, the Brigade can step in to help give them relief or added support. All Bedford residents are invited and encouraged to join this wonderful group of volunteers. The Bedford Neighbor Brigade has served 710 clients and families since 2009 and currently has 270 volunteers willing to help with meals, rides to medical appointments, dog walking, etc. To learn more, visit the Neighbor Brigade’s website at https://www.neighborbrigade.org/ or the Bedford Neighbor Brigade’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Bedford-Neighbor-Brigade-596820443756859/
Editor’s Note: This is Part II of a three-part focus on Bedford’s Neighbor Brigade. Read Part I – Celebrating the Brigade’s First Community Angel Sponsor, and Watch for Part III to learn about Pam’s Run, a way to go on a fun run and support the Neighbor Brigade at the same time.