Neighbor Brigade

Deborah Burke Henderson, Contributing Writer
A Network of Compassionate Volunteers Helping in Crisis
Caring volunteers provide transportation to and from medical appointments to assist those in temporary crisis. (Photo courtesy of Neighbor Brigade)
Issue Date: 
February, 2018
Article Body: 

Little things make a difference. When someone suffers from an injury or illness that precludes them from managing everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, making meals or getting to doctors’ appointments, the help of a caring neighbor can be a saving grace.
The Neighbor Brigade was founded on this premise.
“The Neighbor Brigade is dedicated to helping individuals and families whose lives are complicated by sudden tragedy or illness,” Executive Director Polly Mendoza said. “We have 80 volunteers here in town who are willing to help in your time of crisis. Call us or inquire online about our free services.”
To qualify for help your condition must be a temporary one. Perhaps you are recovering from surgery, a car accident, home fire or death in the family.
Assistance is typically provided for the short-term – lasting one to three months – but when warranted, may last up to one year.
Services include meals delivered to your doorstep, rides to medical appointments and/or errands, light household chores, dog walking and light pet care (non-boarding), yard work or snow removal.
“Ashland is one of 27 communities in the Commonwealth that benefits from the services of the Neighbor Brigade,” Ashland chapter co-leader Lizzie Paul added. “Our volunteers are screened and can often respond in 48 hours.”
Tracey Lydon became a volunteer of the Ashland Neighbor Brigade after utilizing its services following knee replacement surgery.
“The volunteers I encountered were so kind and generous with their time, providing me with rides to work while I couldn’t drive,” Lydon explained. “I volunteer so I can give back to the community that supported me during my time of need. It’s a great feeling to support my neighbors when they need help. It can make all the difference in someone’s recovery.”
Cecelia Doucette added, “Over the years, as time permits, I’ve been honored to help arrange for housing and household goods after a home fire, restore treasured photo albums rescued from the fire, prepare meals for families dealing with illness and help people get to and from medical appointments. None of it has taken much time, but I know it means a lot to those on the receiving end. It’s good for the soul and a lovely way to build community.”
Above and beyond typical services, the Neighbor Brigade often teams up with other organizations such as food pantries and shelters to conduct community drives for personal items, winter coats and holiday gifts. These drives benefit homeless women and low-income families.
If you consider yourself flexible, caring and open-minded and have access to a computer or smartphone and reliable transport, the Neighbor Brigade may be perfect for you. Sign up to help once a week or once a year.
Young adults, working professionals and active retirees may review the Neighbor Brigade’s volunteer policies online to see if the fit is right. Some opportunities require background checks, and youth ages 14-17 must have written permission from a guardian to volunteer independently.
With a diverse community to support, applicants who speak Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese or Mandarin are especially desirable.
Email alerts from Paul or co-leader Monisha Awasthi notify the local network about services needed. Volunteers login online and when an assignment is accepted, specific details are forwarded, including the client’s name and address.
Two friends battling cancer, Pam Washek and Jean Seiden of Wayland, received tremendous support from neighbors and friends who provided meals and assisted with other household tasks. After her treatment, Washek wanted to make that kind of support available to others in need. In 2002, she and Seiden launched the Wayland Angels Food Network, a small group of volunteers who could manage common tasks for people in crisis. In 2010, a few years after Seiden’s passing, the group became the Neighbor Brigade.
“What began as a grassroots effort has turned into a nonprofit organization with 3,500 volunteers nationwide, primarily on the East and West Coasts,” Mendoza added. “We now have chapters in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Mass., Maine, New Jersey and Washington State.”
Funding runs the gamut from special events to corporate sponsorships, private donations and grant opportunities.
“Pam’s Run” is a family-friendly 5/10K event in Wayland that occurs the second weekend in October paying tribute to Washek (who died from the illness in 2012) and her legacy of caring. According to Mendoza, more than 700 participants walk, run or push strollers, and the donations raised greatly benefit the agency’s annual budget.
Numerous Ashland Business Association members commit a portion of sales to support this cause.
Mendoza is also grateful to the Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation, the nonprofit, private charitable foundation established by the Middlesex Savings Bank, for a full-year grant running from until Nov. 2018.
“This generous grant will allow us to add a program director to our small staff of three and translate our brochure into Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese to meet our goal of including more diverse populations at every level of the organization.”
Over the past two years, six new chapters have opened, and Mendoza notes that new chapters are springing up all the time.
Ideally, two volunteers from a given community serve as chapter co-leaders. Each makes a commitment of 10 hours a month, and if possible, commits two years in this role.
To learn if you qualify for assistance, apply as a volunteer or donate, visit or call toll-free at 1-855-241-4357 (HELP). Follow the Neighbor Brigade on social media at