The things we think about during endless Island winters.
Last winter, comic impressionist Louise DuArt and her husband, bestselling author (“When God Winks”) SQuire (sic) Rushnell were sitting around the kitchen table in their yellow cottage in Edgartown.
Ms. DuArt was retelling stories she had heard from her grandfather, Edward Duarte, Tisbury’s Waterworks superintendent, about Island life in the days before government and nonprofit organizations were in place to help. A time when folks here were linked in a network of interdependence that helped everybody get through life.
That was in February. Today, Ms. DuArt and friends have formed an organization called Network of Neighbors, and on Saturday night comic star Tim Conway will provide a free concert at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School at 7:30 pm to promote and raise money for the new group.
Ms. DuArt tours the country with Mr. Conway’s comedy troupe, doing concerts featuring comedic impressions of celebrities by Ms. DuArt and reenactments of comedy skits from the long-running Carol Burnett Show television series.
“As the government continues to falter, I don’t think there’s any question that interdependence will be more important. The Island has a long tradition of helping. I travel across the country and there is no place like Martha’s Vineyard, so we just wanted to take that and light a fire under the old values of neighbor helping neighbor,” she said.
“Social networks are a great tool to apply to our existing sense of community,” Mr. Rushnell said of the couple’s decision to form a nonprofit 501(C)3 as a framework for the community helping process. “We hope to emphasize acts of what I call ‘gifting forward,’ which means something different from the commonly used term ‘paying it forward.’ That’s really how it started, helping someone else,” he said.
It’s working so far. “When I began talking about the idea and asked Tim to do the show, he not only agreed but insisted that the show be free-admission,” Ms. DuArt said, noting that about 600 of the high school’s 800 seats have already been reserved. Reservations can be made by registering at networkofneighbors.com.
Last week the new website was populated with stories of Island people helping each other, including one that illustrates the “gifting forward” concept. A young mother with two kids found herself needing a home on the Island. A Menemsha couple offered her their home. Local fishermen heard the story and began leaving freshly-caught fish at her doorstep. The young woman was moved to respond. She baked bread and pies, which she left on the fishing boats.
“As far as we know, they have never met each other but we are genetically predisposed to respond in that way,” Ms. DuArt said in a phone interview.
As the founders explain it, Network of Neighbors is a methodology that harnesses social media to harness the Island’s predilection for helping by linking needs and resources via posts on the site, from big stuff like food and housing and simple things like dog-sitting or reading to elders.
“We are not duplicating any services provided by Island organizations like Anchors or Community Services. This effort is for organizations as well as neighbors. Organizations can link their logo and information to the website. The Y will tie in, for example, and organizations like the Gleaners can get some promotion. Libraries can help seniors get on computer. It can function as a one stop-shopping link for service organizations,” Ms. DuArt said.
While volunteers make up the organization’s core group, “There will probably be a need for some paid staff to manage the website and to monitor for safety and anonymity,” Mr. Rushnell said.
“We are just reaching out in all ways. There is so much talent here. The network is a way to tap in,” she said.
Comedy Show with Tim Conway and Louise DuArt Saturday, July 30, 7:30 pm, Performing Arts Center, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Oak Bluffs. Free tickets with registration at networkofneighbors.com.