Helping hand: Good neighbors stand up to help family after tragedy

Published: Friday, April 6 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

The Uribe girls jump on their trampoline in their backyard. With the help of neighbors, the girls have been able to cope with their father's death.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

When her husband ended his prescription drug addiction by taking his own life in 2007, leaving her to comfort and raise their four little girls alone, Tillie Uribe felt as if the roof had fallen in on her.

Then it did.

Her oldest girl was just 9, the youngest 3. They already had medical bills from the illness that had led him to get hooked on prescription pain meds in the first place, then she had recently been diagnosed with a form of heart failure associated with child birth. Standing in the tiny bathroom, the sky clearly visible through a gaping hole created by a previously invisible leak in the swamp cooler, her thoughts were as chaotic as her life at that moment.

She was just discovering how much his addiction had overcome them financially. Her daughters had adored their daddy and were distraught. She wasn't sure they could continue to live in the house, which was in serious need of repair. They had no money to fix it.

Tillie Uribe didn't know she already had the tools she'd need to make it through: A young family living across her West Jordan cul de sac was about to make good on a promise they'd made at her husband's funeral several days before. The pastor had said Tillie's family would need support for the long haul, perhaps for years to come. Who, he asked, would stand with them and be there for them no matter what?

Hands clasped, Jackie and Matt Shoda stood up. "We will."

A helping hand

Good neighbors help each other out with little things, maybe shoveling your walk along with theirs or sharing a bountiful tomato harvest. In the three years since Jackie Shoda had said with uncharacteristic force that this house was where they should live, the Shodas and Uribes had become better neighbors than most.

In warm weather you can nearly always see a "giggle of girls" riding bikes or skipping rope on the concrete. The little Shodas, Harmony now 7, and Melody, 3, love to play with the Uribe clan: Analisa, now 14, Miranda, 13, Emma, 11, and Eva, 8.

Back then, Tillie Uribe, a first grade teacher, had watched Harmony while the Shodas worked in the summer, since the girls were always together anyway and school vacation meant she had the time. As her husband, Jose, drifted further away, sunk into an addiction and a depression that fed each other, Matt Shoda took on some chores like changing the Uribes' tires or wrestling their garbage cans to the curb along with his own.

When her roof collapsed, he thought back to that moment in the church when he and Jackie stood up. The pastor, he says, "kind of called us all out. We took the pledge seriously." But what to do about the house?

He's not a particularly gifted carpenter or craftsman, Shoda admits with a smile in his voice. He is, by trade, a salesman, selling bottled water to offices. He tried to use those sales skills to get the TV series Extreme Home Makeover to help the Uribes. The producers said maybe they could do something next year.

That promise wouldn't keep foul weather out, and Matt Shoda had never been afraid of a challenge.

In college, he'd walked onto the football team at University of Nevada-Reno and even earned a short-lived spot on the roster of the Dallas Cowboys in 1999. "I got cut," he says. "But I went for it. I figure you might as well aim high and go for it; you live in America, where anything can happen."

He started dialing people he knew, who soon called their own friends. The troops were being rallied for the widow and her young family. Ask him to describe the result now and words nearly fail him.

"It just turned into something beautiful," he says. "People were saying, 'I heard what you're doing. I want to help.'"

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