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Bolivar-based group helps neighbors

| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 9:25 a.m.
Shauna McMillan (left), founder of the Friendly Neighbor Organization,  and Kayla Lichtenfels, a volunteer,  look over all the baskets that the local residents donated to the basket raffle fundraising event held at the Bolivar American Legion.
Bill Pribisco | for the Ligonier Echo
Shauna McMillan (left), founder of the Friendly Neighbor Organization, and Kayla Lichtenfels, a volunteer, look over all the baskets that the local residents donated to the basket raffle fundraising event held at the Bolivar American Legion.

More than 700 families have been helped by the Friendly Neighbor Group since its inception in 2012. The group is comprised of local volunteers who have teamed up to help fellow community members in need.

“Friendly Neighbors began as my dream, but evolved into some of the most beautiful acts of kindness I have ever seen,” said the group's CEO, Shauna McMillan.

McMillan said she came up with the idea to form a group to help others with everyday tasks. After sharing her thoughts with Krystal Henderson, the two decided to create a Facebook page to spread the word.

“The response was overwhelming,” said McMillan, who added that the group currently has more than 1,000 members.

The nonprofit organization offers assistance to those in need by recruiting help from surrounding communities and residents. From assistance with food and clothing to checking on seniors in inclement weather conditions, the group does all that it can to help.

“Everyone can relate to going through hard times,” said Krystal Henderson, board chairwoman of Friendly Neighbors. “We all need a helping hand once in awhile. This is our way of giving back and urging others to do the same and pay it forward.”

McMillan travels seven days a week, picking up and delivering food donations to families spanning three counties.

“Aside from tangible items, we support each other through active encouragement and resources,” said McMillan. “The best feeling in the world is seeing the relief lifted from a person who is struggling.”

McMillan said one of the most touching moments she has experienced being a part of the group is when a toddler donated his toy to help another child without toys or when a mother burst into tears over a friendly face and two boxes of cereal.

“It's a beautiful thing,” she said.

To date, the Friendly Neighbors have held a litter clean-up, a back-to-school drive to collect backpacks and supplies for local children and a visit from Santa for 25 children over the holidays. Additionally, they have held various basket raffles to benefit families and individuals in need.

Upcoming events include a bake sale at the Indiana Mall on Feb. 15, a craft show for kids, a summer motorcycle rally, a golf outing, a softball tournament and a back-to-school jubilee in August. Proceeds from all events will help area families in need.

Through fundraising, grants and media relations, Friendly Neighbors hopes to one day purchase the Laurel Valley Middle/High School to use as a group headquarters. Plans for the facility include a donation center, a meal kitchen, guidance and mentor center, community classes and workshops and a temporary shelter.

“At Laurel Valley, we learned how to help one another and pay it forward. What better place for the Friendly Neighbors Group?” said McMillan.

The group is continuously collecting donated items and can always use more hands and hearts.

“Community members can help by joining our group, attending our events and/or donating items or time,” Henderson said.

Those wishing to join Friendly Neighbors, donate items, or learn more about the group can contact them on Facebook or by emailing friendlyneighborsgroup@hotmail.com.

“I am grateful to be healthy enough to do this work and strong-willed enough to keep this mission centered in my mind,” McMillan said. “I am grateful that I have children who are so understanding about how much charity work means to me. I'm grateful that God always provides a way for us to keep going emotionally, physically, financially and mentally. And I'm grateful for each person in this group who has come together to fight the fight on hunger and poverty.”

Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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