A calling to serve

Following Obama’s lead, Keene woman starts group to help others anonymously

By Casey Farrar
Sentinel Staff
Published: Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009
The idea is a simple one. A volunteer group based on neighbors, friends and community members lending a hand to each other for day-to-day tasks. But, says Christine Grant, there’s a twist with a new group she’s starting in Keene, because the people getting help may never know who did them a good deed.

When President Barack Obama last week announced an initiative to make Jan. 19 a national day of service, Grant felt compelled to act.

Having heard about community service groups that offer help to neighbors and community members anonymously, Grant scoured the Internet for a group in Keene that she could join.

“I came up empty-handed,” Grant said. “Some of these groups manage to retain their anonymity well, but I couldn’t find anything in this area, so I thought, ‘Why not start one?’ ”

Here’s how the Help Anonymous group works: Anyone who notices a neighbor in need — be it an elderly person struggling to keep up with lawn work or shoveling a walk, a family searching for emergency child care or someone who could use a warm meal and some company — can anonymously tip off the group with an e-mail to helpinganon@gmail.com.

Grant will collect those e-mails and alert volunteers, who she envisions would lend a hand, asking nothing in return and giving only their first names.

Eventually, she’d like to set up a phone line and Web site for the group to involve more members of the community.

“Part of it is just to lift people’s spirits,” Grant said. “There are people who want to help each other out, but it doesn’t always have to be these big, sweeping gestures.

“The underlying theme of the group (is) to take more notice on a daily basis of ways to help someone.”

And anonymity is a key aspect, Grant said.

“There are a lot of people who might not want people to know they have needs and would be uncomfortable asking for help,” Grant said. “And there are also some people who want to help, but want to do it quietly.”

Already, Grant said, interest about the group has been building among people in the community.

The first meeting, which Grant expects to be mostly organizational and brainstorming, will be held Monday at Panera Bread in Keene.

After posting the meeting as an upcoming event for members of an Internet listserve for Obama supporters just a week ago, Grant said she’s been getting calls and donations.

On Thursday morning, she sat at her dining room table arranging flower baskets for patients at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene from buckets filled with bright blooms of carnations, roses and lilies donated anonymously.

Grant whistled quietly as she poked the flowers into floral foam and said donating time for others is a way she can give back to the community.

She knows from experience what the kindness of strangers can do for someone in need.

As a single parent looking to go to college years ago, some community members helped her find a grant to take classes at Keene State College, where she earned a degree in graphic design.

Grant also bought her first house with help from the Cheshire Housing Trust, a nonprofit housing assistance organization.

“Nothing feels better than doing something for someone else and even if I never see them again, I know I made someone happy,” Grant said. “I want other people to experience that, too.”