It started small, with a mattress.
Susan Asher was decluttering her house and her mom’s house, too, getting it ready to sell.
The Lincoln woman posted photos online and people sent her messages, interested in what she had to offer.
A young man reached out wanting to buy the bed.
Other people said they, too, wanted to buy the bed but they never showed up, Susan said. But this buyer, he seemed serious. Plus, he had no backup bed, so he really needed one.
Sold, she typed out. Can you pick it up tomorrow?
The buyer answered: Could she deliver?
He didn’t have a car because he was new to town, the Facebook stranger explained, here all the way from India to study mechanical engineering at UNL.
Aryan Singh had already tried to buy two beds and the sellers balked at delivery, so the deals fell through. But Susan said sure. She and her husband, Randy Musselman, would figure out a way.
Then the buyer had another question: Could she bring a $10 bill?
“Because he didn’t have the exact change,” said Susan, retired as director of Southeast Community College's dental-assisting program. “He just seemed like such a nice young man and he didn’t have anyone to help him.”
A few days later, Susan and Randy hauled the mattress and $10 over to an apartment near campus and met the 22-year-old graduate student, who’d landed in a strange place and barely knew a soul.
Whose mother was back home, worrying about her son.
They chatted that afternoon at Aryan’s apartment. And Susan and Randy saw the student was in need of more than a place to rest his head.
Which is when the double bed delivery turned into a friendship — and an opportunity for a community to help.
Susan had a spare headboard, maybe Aryan would want it? She had sheets and kitchen stuff and towels and lamps and a study table and a kitchen table.
But she thought he needed more.
So she got on the Next Door Neighbor app — that online coffee klatch/crime watch/handyman recommendation forum where people rave about their favorite plumbers, advertise their garage sales and warn one another about car break-ins.
She’d scrolled through it a time or two looking for an electrician, but this time she was looking for a favor.
She told her neighbors (all people she did not actually know) about Aryan.
She told them about the bed and the international student who needed help setting up his apartment.
Did someone have a chair by chance?
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And they fell all over themselves wanting to help.
I have a chair, someone wrote.
I have a chair, wrote another.
And so it went: I have a recliner ...
I have a small dresser ...
I have blankets, pillows, more chairs ...
A gift card? How about a gift card?
Susan and Randy ran around town picking up donations in their van. They stopped at Darbi Umholtz’s house in the Near South to pick up a sturdy desk chair.
She was happy to help, Darbi said. “But what I love, is that people kept asking what else he might need, and it took on a life of its own.”
Aryan showed off his second-floor apartment Sunday. His bed neatly made, his study desk with the lamp and his dresser, the blankets, the chairs.
He’s grateful for everything, said the student who plans to specialize in robotics and leave Lincoln with a Ph.D.
His parents were worried when he left for Nebraska in July.
“It’s the first time I’m traveling and the first time I’m out of my country,” he said. “Luckily, I found Susan and Randy.”
After the mattress delivery, the couple took him out for a Mexican dinner. They stayed in touch with text messages and phone calls. When he went off sightseeing in Chicago and fell ill, they rescued him at the train station in the Haymarket.
They have another dinner planned soon.
“They are like my family here.”
A family that formed as they filled his apartment with donations from strangers online, who are strangers no longer, Susan said.
“We have a lot of new friends.”
Randy thanked them all online on Aryan’s behalf: He has expressed his gratitude for the assistance of the community to a newcomer to this country. ... Thank you all.
Now Aryan has a roommate, Susan said last week.
“And we’ve been trying to help him, too.”