By: Liberty Ferda
When Pittsburgher Fred Rogers famously sang won’t you be my neighbor? to open his children’s television program Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, he referred to “neighbor” as more than just someone who resides in the house next door.
He meant a friend.
As the leaders and volunteers of Open Hand Ministries rehab homes, they seek to be good neighbors too.
Mr. H lives across the street from a recent OHM renovation on Beatty Street and says the crew was certainly neighborly to him. When asked what it was like living near a construction zone during the 18 month project, he could only say good things.
“It wasn’t a bad experience at all. They were always respectful and always took others’ feelings into consideration.”
When they needed to haul in a dumpster that would take up part of the street, Michael would clear it with Mr. H and the other neighbors beforehand. They negotiated street parking needs, which was very appreciated by Mr. H, as he and his wife—who works long hours as a 9-1-1 operator—both have cars. (Mr. H has a disability parking permit, but that doesn’t always mean he gets the choicest spot in front of his house when returning from work.) Michael always introduced him to people involved in the project, including the woman who would soon be his new neighbor. The OHM folks invited him over to enjoy the pizza shared by volunteers on Saturdays. Seeing how he enjoyed sitting on his porch with a mug of coffee and the newspaper in the mornings, the construction manager started bringing him coffee. They always waved hello. Mr. H was in the middle of his own home improvement—hiring contractors to lay new flooring, redo a bathroom and a bedroom, and paint his house. Several OHM workers came over and gave advice for renovation and made sure the work, when completed, was done well. He was pleasantly surprised when Michael asked him how much the painting had cost and pledged to give him over half of the amount as a gift from OHM.
Gestures like these made all the hammering, drilling, and sawing across the street quite tolerable.
Mr. H loves his neighborhood. It’s always been a nice, quiet area—a great place to raise kids. He’s lived in his home for 30 years and raised his children there. He enjoys seeing new families moving in, hearing the squeals of a young girl playing down the street. But amid the rapidly changing real estate of Pittsburgh’s East End, not everyone is so kind. He’s more than once been given the impression that he’s not welcome in the rush of change. When a development company began building a new home in the area, he said they were noisy and rude, demanding about parking, and clearly just there to make a buck and move on.
“This is my little piece of the world, and all I ask for is a little respect,” he says. “That’s what Mike gives. Mike is part of the neighborhood. He doesn’t treat you like you’re just a number—he truly treats you with respect.”
Mr. Rogers might say that’s exactly what a neighbor should do.