When Diana and Nathan Stokes moved into the cul-de-sac on Eitel Road in Eden Prairie five years ago, they were welcomed right away to dinners, block parties and outings with the group of four other families that shared their neighborhood. Little did they know, the friendships they were building bit by bit would help them through challenging times to come.
The Stokes brought their first child, a boy named Henry, home from the hospital last April. In September, he suffered severe illnesses that hospitalized him for weeks.
The Stokes’ extended family lives far away, and their house and cat needed taking care of while they stayed at the hospital with Henry. Diana sent a text to her neighbors asking for help with the cat. “It was like 5 a.m., and within a half hour they had all texted back,” Diana says. “They all took turns two or three times a day to spend time with our cat, to text us updates, mow our lawn, rake our leaves, bring us meals and check on us.”
They also cooked dinner and offered to buy groceries for the family, among a multitude of other things, Diana says. “We were able to get through that time without having to worry about coming home, and we didn’t even have to spend time organizing it,” she says.
Their son Henry had suffered severe viral gastroenteritis (sometimes called the stomach flu) and had trouble eating, but the Stokes could stay with him in the hospital for as long as they wanted; they only came back to the house for clothes. For nearly a month, they were in and out of the hospital for several days at a time.
When they did come back, they found their house picked up, dinners prepared in the fridge, and their cat taken care of and well loved. A notebook on the counter contained messages left from one neighbor to another about what had already been done. The neighbors even offered to come to the hospital and sit with Henry so Nathan and Diana could take some breaks. “We knew they were great people, but we didn’t realize how lucky we were until we started to tell people,” Diana says. “People didn’t believe that this still existed; maybe in a small town, but here most people don’t all know each other. They just went above and beyond, they did such amazing things.”
While the help has meant so much to the Stokes, their neighbor Emily Dunnigan says she was happy to find simple ways to pitch in. “What seems so small for us is helping them with a current burden,” she says. “It’s so small compared to what they’re having to deal with. We’d do this for anyone.”
According to Dunnigan, her neighbors look out for each other like a family. “We’re all just cheering for [Henry],” she says. “We can’t wait for the day that this is behind him, when he comes down the street skinning his knees and trick or treating.”
Henry now has a feeding tube through his nose, and, depending on a further diagnosis, might need one for much longer. Diana says she will tell Henry about his neighbors’ help during this time when he’s older, and hopes he learns from their example. “We always tell them that when Henry’s older, he will be coming over and mowing the lawn, paying all the neighbors back for all the ways they’ve helped him,” she says. “It’s important to help other people when things are going well for you. That’s a good lesson we want him to learn.”
Meanwhile, her neighbors will tell you what they did wasn’t that special. “There’s always somebody around to help out,” says Steve Kurtzweil, who along with his wife, Cathy, helped maintain the Stokes’ lawn and garden. “I mean, they asked for help and we’re more than happy to get in and help. It’s just what good neighbors do.”