top of page

Empowering Communities: Eric Wood's Journey to Executive Director of NeighborLink in Fort Wayne, IN

This is a story about Eric Wood and his way on becoming a exective director of NeighborLink in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His story goes back to when he was young and found a life changing experience when helping out a person in need. Learn more of NeighborLink story at the Fort Wayne Business Journal.

Engaging in acts of kindness and support for our neighbors and community is at the heart of building a compassionate and united society. When we lend a hand, we strengthen the ties that bind us and nurture a sense of togetherness and inclusion. Each act of assistance creates a ripple effect of goodwill, inspiring others to join in and build a culture of generosity and empathy, creating a community that thrives on shared care and support. With the NeighborLink platform, a world of opportunities opens up for everyone to make a difference, from simple tasks like lawn mowing to significant projects like enhancing accessibility for those with disabilities. NeighborLink offers endless avenues for neighbors to unite, creating lasting connections and a web of support. Today, we delve into the inspiring journey of Eric Wood, the Executive Director of NeighborLink, to uncover the story that led him to his current position at this remarkable organization in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

Eric Wood was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. When describing his childhood, he said he grew up like most other kids from the 80s and 90s. He played sports and went to church with his family on Sundays. A significant turning point in his life happened when he was 14 years old on a trip to Darien, Georgia, to help build a ramp for an elderly couple, but before they arrived, the husband passed away. Eric expected the encounter with the widowed wife to be overwhelming because he wasn't sure how to handle loss and suffering at such a young age. To his surprise, when they arrived, the woman opened her door with a large smile and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She shared stories of God's goodness in her life, and Eric was forever changed by the end of that trip. He said his prayer from that day forward was to have that type of joy for the rest of his days and to live a life of ministry, specifically that of a pastor who served others for the rest of his life. 

After graduating from Homestead High School, Wood went to Huntington University to study Student Ministry. During college, he continued to follow his passion for helping others. He often spent his time helping churches and organizations around the area. He spent a significant amount of time with those struggling with addiction and identity issues. When we asked him about this time in his life, he said,

"From the age of 18-27, I was pastoring churches, volunteering at public schools, and going to skate parks to hang out with kids that were isolated or coming from harder situations like addiction or incarceration. All of that was a life I didn't know growing up, but I was serving them and becoming friends with them and failing alongside them in the sense of 'you don't know how to do this, I don't know how to do this, so let's figure it out together.' I don't know if I had a plan other than to show up and be present and to have experiences with them. While they were learning, we were learning."

Two weeks before Eric graduated from high school, he met his wife, Mandy, and together, they would have two children within the next few years. 

Eric Wood has been following his passion which got him to become executive director of NeighborLink in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This executive director's commitment for serving has made him the perfect leader and role model for this position at NeighborLink.

When Eric was 27, he started to feel like he needed to do more, but he was unsure what that meant. He enjoyed pastoring at his church but wanted to be more involved in the community, so he began praying for guidance. He said,

"I prayed this prayer: 'Kick us out of Fort Wayne or put us in concrete. I'll do whatever you want, but I need you to lead me because I don't know what to do right now.' About 30 days later, I was packing my bags so Mandy and I could take ten kids from Northside High School on a trip. I was convinced this trip would be beautiful, and then I heard in my head, 'I want you to sell everything you own and follow me around the world. Go check your email; your pastor will tell you I'm talking to you.' So I go to my computer and log in, and this is how clear this moment was in my life. I log in and get an email immediately from my pastor that says, 'Hey dude, I haven't slept in three nights. You need to sell everything you own and follow Jesus around the world. Don't worry if everything falls apart; you can start over again.’ Soon after, our roof started leaking, our furnace blew up, and our house fell apart. The next day, someone gave us a brand new furnace, and they didn't even know our furnace blew up. Someone showed up to fix our roof, and after our house was repaired, it sold without a sign in our yard. We packed our two kids and a couple of friends into a van and did 60,000 miles around the country and once around the world. This happened on $600 a month, and every day revealed God's kindness and our dependency."

After their trip, they returned home to Fort Wayne to prepare to move to England, but after a series of events, the plan to move was canceled, and they stayed in Indiana for the next five years. 

Throughout the next decade, Eric experienced extreme burnout while trying to continue pastoring his church and caring for his wife and children. At the age of 34, the Wood family took on another big move to Portland, Maine, where they adopted a son and made it their primary goal to relearn how to love people from the heart of the city with simplicity and proximity. Over the next seven years, Eric became the Director of Transportation for the city of Portland, Co-Owner of an MMA gym, screen printed t-shirts, and spoke at their church on Sundays. Although those years had their hardships, Eric and Mandy were able to experience and do so many things that wouldn't have been possible if they had stayed in the Midwest. Being in a new place where no one knew who they were allowed them to take chances without expectations. Then, the COVID pandemic started, and the desire to be around friends and family for the sake of their children brought them back to Fort Wayne. Two weeks before they planned to move, the Executive Director of NeighborLink resigned, and Eric immediately sent in his resume. The opportunity to work for this organization was something that he could not pass up. Everything NeighborLink stands for embodies how Eric has lived his life: caring for, loving, and serving with and for his neighbors. 

It took five months before Eric heard back about the position, but in May of 2021, he finally got the call he had eagerly anticipated: he was hired. To better understand what NeighborLink is today, we asked Eric to share with us how NeighborLink was created; he told us the unexpected story behind it all. He said,

"In 1997/1998, a lawyer named John Barce, who is still the president of NeighborLink today, was in a leadership cohort, and they were to come up with some ideas. He came up with NeighborLink because there was a lack of connection between the church and their neighbors. He wondered, ‘How do we connect to them based on need, an invitation, and a practical request rather than assumption?’ He formed the idea of NeighborLink, which got second place, and because of that, it was laid down. About three years later, John's dad was kidnapped, ransomed, and murdered. When John got a phone call from his mom, who told him that his dad had been kidnapped and there was a ransom while on the call, outside of anger, one of his thoughts was, 'You're going to forgive this person because I have forgiven you.' At the time he didn’t know who did this to his father yet, but he hears, 'You've been forgiven much, so you're going to forgive much.' The police found the guy and discovered this had been planned for 13 years. He, his wife, and their son planned it over a change in a will. His father was a lawyer. It was a very small transaction - it was just awful - for 13 years, it was planned, and they eventually got him to go where they wanted him to go, and he unfortunately passed away. When they went to court, John had the opportunity to speak, and he spoke right to the man and said, 'I want you to know that you are forgiven. I've been forgiven, and I forgive you.' Around that time, a friend named Doug told John he should start NeighborLink because you never know how much time you have left. So John built the framework of NeighborLink and it's been growing for a little over 20 years ever since. I believe NeighborLink is beautiful and has stayed grassroots because it was created by a man who forgave his worst enemy." 

Imagine a platform where individuals facing challenges in completing projects around their homes can easliy connect with compassionate volunteers willing to lend a helping hand. NeighborLink can help people in need in Fort Wayne, IN.

Today, NeighborLink is a platform that curates connections between two people. On one side is a neighbor in need, and on the other is a neighbor who wants to help. All of this takes place primarily through When you go to their website, you will be greeted with two options: I need help, or I can help. The process for both avenues is similar in the aspect of getting started. For someone needing help, they can either call NeighborLink directly or put in their information on their own through the website. There are no qualifying factors such as age, race, ability, or disability to ask for help; instead, there are three simple questions: Who are you? What is your circumstance? and What do you need? After these three questions are answered, someone from the NeighborLink team will be in contact to ask for any further details about the need being requested, and then the job will be listed on the platform for a neighbor to claim. When it comes to a person who would like to help, they will go through a similar onboarding process before they can help. The process for a neighbor wanting to help is to answer two questions: Who are you? and Why do you want to serve? Once completed, the final step will be a background check to ensure that the person sent to help any neighbors in need has a transparent background. After final approval, the neighbor can search through the list of requests to select the neighbor they want to help first. 

We asked Eric if it's more challenging to find neighbors in need or neighbors willing to help, and he said,

"It definitely takes the margin to love the marginalized, so having volunteers transition into neighbors is the greatest complexity in NeighborLink. We tend to have 300-500 homes needing help on our platform at any time in Fort Wayne. NeighborLink is not the doer, though as a staff, we do work, help, serve, and love folks, but the real invitation is for people to relearn how to neighbor again. Oftentimes, we don't know the people to our left, right, front, or back, so it's a foreign invitation, and we have to relearn how to be present with the people we are surrounded by. We're trying to remove volunteering from our dictionary because volunteering implies a one-time commitment to something, and neighboring is something that is a part of your rhythm and identity." 
From small repairs to large renovation projects, this non-profit business can help with your project needs.

Although many needs listed on the platform do not require a skilled trade, many people still need something that would require someone with special skills. Finding companies or people who can perform these tasks can be difficult, but Eric and his team work hard to find the right organizations and people to help these neighbors. Skilled jobs often requested include roofing, fixing or installing furnaces, and converting rooms in people's homes to be more accessible for those with disabilities. In fact, in the last 60 days, NeighborLink has helped connect neighbors to repair or replace 20 roofs and 20 furnaces alone. We asked Eric who covers the cost of projects, either large or small, and he said,

"It's a three-way dance. The homeowner is invited to pay for the cost of materials, and then labor is free, so that's a dance between NeighborLink, the homeowner, and the person or group serving. If the homeowner is on a fixed income, how do we, as NeighborLink and the neighbors serving, come together to figure this out? We broker many different deals to help people play a part in the material costs, so it's not just free, whether in part or all the way, but the work done by neighbors is always free. We also get grants or private donations to help us carry some of those heavier lifts." 
Finding a neighbor to help builds friendships that will forever last. When helping your community and finding a program that truly helps other in the community, choose NeighborLink. When helping out you can makes memories and friend for life.

As we talked through Eric's normal day, he said that although he does ensure their budget is where it needs to be, he doesn't spend his time chasing money but rather finding people. He said,

"I think when you're really trying to love and serve folks, there are others out there trying to do the same, and you eventually meet up in the same places and collaborate in the same work. Sometimes I might be a little intrepid by the money stuff, but ultimately, I don't think I'm in charge of the books as people perceive. This position is such a good fit for me because I'm not chasing money and power; I'm just sitting with the least of these and compelling others to join me. I get to speak, sit, and compel, and I don't think there is a better gig in this season for me than that. It wears me down in ways that I don't think people fully understand because I can get worn out doing the usual tasks of an Executive Director. Most people are astonished that I'm out there doing the mission instead of just talking about it. I will tell you for the people who read this: if we are not living the mission, our voice lacks substance and believability. Strangers have become neighbors who have become friends through NeighborLink. The sweet story of NeighborLink is the people I get to become friends with because they asked for help one day." 
NeighborLink is commited to help out the Fort Wayne Community. When it comes to helping others make sure to look around because it could be a neighbor in need. When your trying to find a place to volunteer in Fort Wayne community look for NEighborLink. This is great place to serve others if your looking to get out of the house.

As for the future of NeighborLink, Eric hopes to see the platform utilized across the country and, ultimately, around the world. Today, several cities have joined in on the mission and use the platform to help their neighbors, but the platform has recently been rebuilt. With the new platform, anyone from anywhere at any time can ask for help or offer assistance to their neighbors however they need. Regarding all the ways the community can help support NeighborLink, Eric said there are three main ways to join the mission. The first is if someone needs help, to sign up and ask for help. Although this may seem simple, asking for help is difficult for many people. At some point in our lives, we all will be in a situation where we need help. The most considerable difference is that not all of us will have the resources at our disposal to fulfill our needs. Through NeighborLink, everyone has the ability to get the help they need regardless of their circumstances. The second way to do our part is for everyone to sign up and select projects to help our neighbors, get to know them, and create a lasting relationship. The final way you can help is through donations. Donations allow NeighborLink to help relieve some of the financial burdens of larger projects that require various costly materials. 

Eric Wood epitomizes the platform's mission of community support and kindness. With a lifelong dedication to helping others, Eric brings a compassionate and selfless approach to his role. His unwavering commitment to serving and loving his neighbors shines through in every project he undertakes. Through his strong faith, Eric navigates life with a deep-seated purpose to support and uplift those around him. NeighborLink could not have found a more caring and dedicated leader than Eric Wood. Eric's example reminds us of the power of empathy, understanding, and love in building a stronger community in a world that often feels divided. 

Fort Wayne Business Journal had the opportunity to do an interiview with NeighborLink in executive director of Fort Wayne, Indiana. This story of NeighborLink is a great story if your looking someone who has worked their way up in their career. Learn more of this story at Fort Wayne Business Journal.

We want to thank Eric for his time and for sharing his inspiring journey with us. Throughout our conversation we could hear Eric's passion for our community and the mission of NeighborLink. We also want to thank Nike with Creative Roots Media for capturing the photos you see throughout the article. If you enjoy reading the stories of those helping shape Fort Wayne one business at a time, subscribe to our free monthly newsletter so you're always in the loop about what is happening here at the Fort Wayne Business Journal.


bottom of page