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Guest Opinion: Why great neighbors are needed again now

In our 150th year, we've been asking: What makes a great neighbor? The most heartening answer: someone who is watching out for you, sees your need before you do and then takes the initiative to lend a hand, offer financial help, bring a meal, sho...

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In our 150th year, we've been asking: What makes a great neighbor?

The most heartening answer: someone who is watching out for you, sees your need before you do and then takes the initiative to lend a hand, offer financial help, bring a meal, shovel your driveway or check on your well-being.

We are celebrating our 150th Anniversary by holding up the work of 150 great neighbors.

In 1865, a pastor and his congregation in southeastern Minnesota took in four orphaned children and fitted out the basement of their one-room church, starting the Vasa Children's Home that, 98 years later, became Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.

It's been my conviction that since World War II, baby boomers have become affluent enough to buy services for their neighbors. People with disabilities have moved to group homes, older adults have moved to nursing homes and youth who become homeless have been served in shelters.

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As we care for that aging baby boom generation, we will be hard-pressed to buy services for all of them, not to mention everyone else who needs support. And so we believe we will see neighbors who need support staying in their families longer and the growth of home, community-based and outpatient services. We will also see a greater call than ever for foster and adoptive families and host homes for short and intermediate-term care.

This will place new burdens on family members caring for their loved ones, and they will need great neighbors.

Ten-thousand baby boomers are retiring every day and will need more support as they age. We'll need to invent new living alternatives that cost less for people with mild disabilities and save more taxpayer dollars for people who have greater health needs. Today, we have kids who are unable to go home and need a safe place to stay for a night, a weekend, or a year.

As we look ahead, we're redesigning our services to imagine how all of our neighbors - young, old, vulnerable and alone - can thrive and live well in community in productive, meaningful lives.

We'll need more people to look in on elder neighbors or to have youth hang out at their house until they can mend relations at home.

Today through Lutheran Social Service of MN, we have families who are opening their homes as host homes to people with disabilities, often to provide a stepping stone for someone who wants to try living more independently before they take the step to apartment life. We'll be using this host home model more and more for youth to avoid having them spend even one night without a safe place.

For older adults, we've designed what we call Abundant Aging to ensure our aging neighbors have choices and opportunities to contribute in our community. We will see more baby boomers themselves leave full-time work and seek meaningful ways to spend their free time by helping their neighbors run errands or get to appointments. We even have one energetic 94-year-old volunteer who is still driving and delivering meals to her neighbors through our home-delivered meals service!

At our 150th Anniversary Celebration for Changing Lives on Sept. 26, we'll be lifting up 150 great neighbors - inspiring examples of caring people in our community who have joined hands with us to carry out our mission to inspire hope, change lives and build community. They include foster grandparents, senior companions, active volunteers, foster parents, host homes, safe neighborhood champions and adoptive parents.

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The good news is that being a great neighbor has always been part of the DNA of Minnesotans. That is why we are honored and privileged to have served by your side for the past 150 years.

Thank you, Minnesota! And here's to the next 150!

Jodi Harpstead is CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.

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