Community at Its best

Submitted by Derek Alton on February 13, 2014 - 12:44pm
An emotional tale of a community coming together to support a family in need

As you know, our understanding of community is usually grounded in a deep experience of community we have had.  For me, that foundation is the church community I grew up in. It functions like a single family unit; we do everything together. In that church, there is one particular family who I am very close with, the McDowells. They have been a second family for me- I actually lived with them for a year. They have 3 boys, one of which, Dave, has been my best friend since we were four and the father, John, was a mentor for me all through high school. 

Recently, it was discovered that John has stage four lung cancer, a very severe prognosis. The news has dropped like a bomb shell in the community. Immediately, a support team was struck to help John, his wife Bev and the whole family, providing both emotional and spiritual support as well as support with more logistical and practical matters (organizing rides to treatment, ect,).  As people in the community wrestled with the news, they immediately started thinking about what they could do to give. There was an enormous desire to help and it needed an outlet. John is an independent contractor and the main breadwinner in the family. He is needing to step back from work to focus on his recovery, which puts tremendous financial strain on the family. The leadership team decided to organize a fundraiser to help raise some support for the family.  

We all knew this event would be special. On Saturday, I arrived with some friends at 6:30pm to see if we could help with set up (the event started at 7:30). By the time we got there, there was already 50 people. By 7pm, all the seats were filled and people just kept coming. By the time the 7:30pm start time rolled around, we were at standing room only and starting to overflow into the lobby. The whole church community, along with many others who had been part of the community over the years, were in attendance- some of the people I had not seen in years. Family, friends, clients of John. People drove hours to be there, some from as far away as Florida.

There was an incredible energy to the room- I struggle to know the proper words to describe it- a cross between steely determination and joy at being able to help out a family who had done so much for so many people. Someone I talked to described it as love. At one point, I turned around and saw a smiling face that looked oddly familiar. I turned to Dave who was beside me, "Hey Dave is that Dane?"... It was!!  

In our younger days, we had been involved in scouts together and Dane had been one of the core members of that scout troop and a long time friend of Dave's. We hadn't seen him in over 5 years. After giving Dane a big hug, I thanked him so much for coming. He said "Of course, I had to be here. There is no place I would rather be right now." That summed up the feeling of everyone in the room. People moved mountains to make sure they could attend. Furthermore, Dane had sent out a call to the old scout troop (John had been one of our leaders), and slowly as the night went on they trickled in.

The night was filled with music. The McDowell's are a musical family. John was involved in both a choir and a band, both who performed beautifully. Then, the McDowell boys went up. Although they are all in separate bands (Dave and I had been in a band together all through high school), tonight they were playing together. I have heard them play thousands of times, but they have never sounded so beautiful. It was incredible. I joked with Dave afterwards, "Since when could you sing?" (he was our lead singer in our band). They got a solid 5 minute ovation.  

Then John shared some words with the group, it was classic John: a mix of wit, humour and honesty. There was not a dry eye in the room. Our goal for the night was to raise $35,000 to ensure the family didn't need to worry about money and John could focus on recovery for the next several months. Our church community is more rural, lots of farmers- we are not a particular wealthy group- so this was a tall order. But, that night anything was possible and we raised over $70,000 for the family.

In life you get to be part of only a couple truly special, truly magical events. For me, this was one of those nights. This was community, my community, at its best.  





What a moving experience- so neat to see what can come when people work for the good of others- it makes all of us better!