Lessons From the Neighborhood: Look For the Helpers

February 2024

by brooke wagner

The world knew him as the friendliest neighbor around. Fred McFeely Rogers, better known as “Mister Rogers,” hosted a children's television show from 1968 until 2001. Rogers used his platform to transform children’s television at the time and became a symbol of compassion and kindness to generations of young Americans. One of his most famous quotes is full of wisdom passed on to him from his mother, Nancy. (Delete if using pullout quote) “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”  

The definition of helper is deceivingly simple, yet profound; “A person who helps someone else.” The very nature of the word implies that one person steps into the gap of another person’s life and does what they can to make it easier or better.  

As parents and caregivers, we are familiar with the concept of helping from the time our children are born. We help them eat and fall asleep (“Please, please fall asleep!”). We help them sit up, then crawl, and then learn to walk. We help them tie their shoes, button their clothes, and cut up their food at mealtimes, and as the school years roll on, we help with math homework and book reports and help them get to soccer practice on time (hopefully, with all their gear in tow). If we were paid for the hours spent helping those growing minds and bodies around us, we could retire early as millionaires.  

However, as our children grow up, the help we offer them takes a different form. It suddenly is not appropriate for us to help our child spoon food into their mouths, yet they may still need some guidance on how to shop for groceries and prepare food for themselves. We don’t help them with those pesky zippers and snaps anymore, but we drop them off at the mall to shop for the latest sneakers with their friends. The transition from the hands-on, “Let me do that for you,” approach we took as parents of toddlers, to the hands-off, “I can do it myself,” cry of an older kiddo and teen can be challenging to navigate. Parents of teenagers will attest that,  more often than not, they realize too late that the help offered was either too much or too little than the moment called for.  

When our children begin leaving the nest and finding their wings behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound automobile, caregivers may feel much less helpFUL and more helpLESS. I will never forget watching our oldest child drive off in the car by herself from the DMV parking lot and thinking, “She can’t be in there alone!”  

One Billings mom, Amanda, had a similar thought when her son started driving but soon got into a rhythm of trusting that he would get to and from his travels without a hiccup. Her son, Ben, is an outgoing and adventurous teen with a shock of blond hair, bright blue eyes, and a sweet dimpled smile. He and a friend were driving down a busy Billings road last fall when he found himself involved in an automobile accident. Amanda was at home when she got the call. She says, “There is little in the world that is as unnerving as the sound of your child’s panicky and quivering voice. At that moment, it was obvious that something was terribly wrong.” 

Amanda knew that although the accident wasn’t too far from their house, she couldn’t instantly get there to be with her son. She remembers, “I heard my own voice whooshing around in my head.” Things felt chaotic and out of control as Amanda tried to put the pieces together of what was happening. “Suddenly, a bystander took the phone from my son and confirmed there had been an accident. He’s there with my child and fills me in on what’s happening at the scene. He took control of an out-of-control situation, and I immediately felt peace knowing my son wasn’t alone in that moment.” 

Amanda said it felt like 20 minutes to drive the three miles from her house to the scene of the accident. As she got closer, she could see several police cars and the flashing lights of an ambulance. Her eyes quickly scanned the debris on the road and the beat-up cars to find her son. “There he is, head hanging low, his skin pale…but he’s standing. Someone is being taken away in an ambulance. After a heart-stopping moment, I realized my son was not loaded in it. It’s not until later that I realized how my prayers had been answered.” Only hours before the crash, Amanda had been spending time in prayer and reflection for her family. She says, “That very day, I had asked God to send a helper to my kids when they thought that no one was  coming.” She remembers praying, “Please send someone who can help, whatever the need may be, and make that person known to them. Let them fully understand that this person was sent to find them, take care of them, or help them manage their situation.”   

Even months later, she is struck by how obviously and quickly that prayer was answered. A helper appeared for her son at the exact moment he needed him the most. The selfless action of one person, who didn’t have any obligation to step into this situation with Ben, impacted not only a teenage boy but also an entire family and community of friends.  

Of course, when the dust settled, and Amanda had a minute to search for the helper who miraculously appeared, he was nowhere to be found. He slipped back into the hustle and bustle of traffic and headed to wherever the road was initially taking him. He never asked for recognition or special treatment - he just showed up where he was needed at the moment. Isn’t that just like a helper?  

Originally printed in the February 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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