Community Heroes: Gratitude for Neighbors Helping Neighbors

The Corona pandemic has profoundly magnified the vital and selfless role of our region’s volunteer first responders.  Northwest Connecticut fire and ambulance services run on volunteers and are fueled by the generosity and bravery of our neighbors who teach at our schools, fix our leaky pipes, and landscape our gardens. They are also our skilled and well-trained first responders.

It’s these individuals that Mary and Philip Oppenheimer felt compelled to honor through funding and producing a documentary that pays homage to the heroic yet humble sacrifice and selflessness of our first responders. The result is Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a 15-minute film that premiered drive-in style on July 11 at Sharon Playhouse, which opened their parking lot, provided technical support, and created a welcoming environment even during a downpour and subsequent rainbow.

To bring their vision to life, the Oppenheimers called upon Salisbury-based nationally-recognized documentary filmmaker Anne Makepeace to create and direct the brief and compelling film--a mix of interviews, testimonials, and footage from fires and rescues.

Makepeace described at the premiere, “I’ve lived here since 2003, but I didn’t really live here until I started this project.” She honored the generosity, the spirit of giving without asking anything in return, and the risks first responders take on behalf of their neighbors.

According to Makepeace, she began the film in October 2018 and the last shoot was March 6, 2020. Originally wanting to call the film, “Local Heroes,” Makepeace was dissuaded by the subjects of her film. They see themselves as neighbors helping neighbors, which ultimately became the name of the documentary.

In addition to expressing gratitude, the Oppenheimers and Makepeace hope that the volunteer fire and ambulance services in the area can use the film to help raise funds and recruit volunteers. “Give some thought to the ways you can use help,” suggested Mary Close Oppenheimer to the crowd of first responders at the premiere, “We can help get the word out.”

Also assisting with promotion and dissemination is the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation, which created a special volunteer first responders issue of their newsletter, The Steward, filled with information about emergency services in Northwest Connecticut. The foundation has awarded $100,000 in grants to emergency service organizations over the past ten years. It will also assist in the promotion and dissemination of the film. Neighbors Helping Neighbors will be available online in the coming weeks on the foundation’s website and via an emailed link. This will allow widespread viewing by individuals, schools, and local organizations.

We invite you to read more about two of the film’s featured first responders, Jacquie Rice of Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service and The Falls Village Volunteer Fire Department’s Andrea Downs, to whom Noble Horizons paid tribute during this year’s National Emergency Medical Services Week.    You may stream the 15-minute movie here.

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