Adapted in TC: Reclaiming a Forgotten Resource

Featured in The Record Eagle on June 4, 2017. WRITTEN BY Susan Odgers, a local columnist

Susan Odgers‘I’m a good person to bring you a message about the power of neighbors. I depend upon other people for my survival. This has made my life something more … not less.”

And so began my TEDx Talk last month in Traverse City.

TED, (technology, entertainment and design) began as a conference in California in 1984. Locally, in 2011, Paul Sutherland of the FIM Group and Tim Nelson of Northwestern Michigan College brought Tedx ( independently organized event) to Milliken Auditorium. Today, TED talks are inspiring, informative, speaker presentations on thousands of topics; watched online, by millions of people worldwide.

In February, I completed an online application for the March 2 Tedx pitch night competition. From more than 50 applications, 23 of us were selected to give our three minute pitch. This year’s theme was “There’s something more…”. Ten days later, I learned I was one of four local presenters voted by audience ballots and the Tedx judges to present a six minute talk on May 17. The full day would run 9am-4pm and include at least 13 other speakers/performers.

For months, I prepared for my talk; reading TED presentation books, watching lots of TED talks, interviewing previous Tedx speakers, surveying varied people on their thoughts on neighbors, researching the topic nationally and internationally, running ideas by the Tedx crew and writing, practicing, with my writing groups, family and friends. During this period, I discovered that the topic of neighbors resonated with many people; whether they had had positive or challenging experiences.

At 18, when I had my stroke, it was my downstate apartment neighbors, not 911, who would have first heard my cries for help. After my rehabilitation, my apartment turned out to be a more accessible place to live than my parent’s home or the university dorms. My neighbors helped me feel safe, got my groceries and until I learned to drive, drove me to doctor appointments and classes. Because of their help, I could live independently. I lived alone in my apartment for six years until I got married.

Not long ago, our neighborhood experienced two suicides, a home foreclosure, a domestic violence arrest and various petty crimes. Challenged as to how to respond in a helpful manner, my family first consulted our neighborhood directory and hand delivered greeting cards to everyone. The cards emphasized our need to pull together to help one another. From there our neighbors got creative; organizing dog walking parties to check on houses, front yard “get acquainted” gatherings, and sharing meals, repairs and garden plants. Then we exchanged ideas with other neighborhoods.

Around this time, our neighbor, Samantha, 26, was diagnosed with lymphoma. Samantha lived her entire life in our neighborhood. Everyone described her as ‘love personified’. Some of her treatments were in Ann Arbor; exhausting for her entire family.

Our neighbor, Karen, knew what Sam’s family needed; so neighbors signed-up for watching Sam’s house, doing yard care, making and serving meals, delivering cards/prayers/gift certificates/balloons/etc. to lift Sam’s spirits.

At 28, Samantha died. Her parents say they’re never moving. We showed them they live in a world where they matter. Everyday, Samantha’s spirit brings out something more in all of us in our neighborhood.

This column is a summary of my Tedx talk. For the full video go to tedxtraversecity.com.

Susan Odgers, a resident of Traverse City for the past 30 years, has used a wheelchair for 41 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached by contacting the Record-Eagle.

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