Rick Bannister

Neighborhood Bridges links people in need to those who can help them

Rick Bannister finds heroes. He doesn’t consider himself to be one. Bannister, 54, left his job of 17 years as chief operating officer of the Ohio State Bar Association in January 2017 to start Neighborhood Bridges, a charitable organization that helps those in need in 13 communities in Ohio and Alabama.

“The only thing I’ve done here is, I just believe in others,” Bannister said. “I have a strong conviction in the kindness that exists in all of us.”

Since 2017, more than 15,000 people have been helped by Neighborhood Bridges, and almost 1,000 needs have been filled. In July, 98 percent of the needs requested by the group were filled. Requests for help include clothing, furniture, school fees and money for doctor’s appointments.

Advocates post requests for people in need, who remain anonymous. Advocates can be anyone, but they are commonly teachers, school counselors and others in education. People see the posts on the website, neighborhoodbridges.org, or via email or social media and offer to help. Donations can be taken to local fire stations or picked up by the organization.

“It’s a deliberately simple process,” Bannister said. “I want it to be very, very simple, because I don’t want there to be any boundaries to kindness.”

Lyn Kinney, who nominated Bannister to be an Everyday Hero, subscribed to Neighborhood Bridges emails after Bannister spoke at a local Rotary Club meeting. She began working for the organization about a year and a half ago.

She thought he deserved to be recognized for his tireless efforts to help his community and others. “Other than emotional and feel-good stuff, he doesn’t get a huge salary, which he reluctantly takes,” Kinney said.

Bannister has lived in Westerville for 45 years. He started dating his wife, Diane, during their senior year at Westerville South High School, and both attended Ohio State University. They decided to stay in Westerville and now have four daughters.

In 1994, he started chairing a committee for the Westerville Chamber to help negotiate a tax abatement agreement between the city and the schools. He has worked on seven school levy campaigns in Westerville from 1995 to 2016 and will be involved in the school levy issue in November to build new elementary and middle schools.

Bannister joined the Westerville Board of Education in 1996 and served until 2002.

He has spent his free time as a member of the Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club, a volunteer at a food pantry, a member of Westerville athletic boosters and as the “voice of the Wildcats.”

Bannister started announcing softball, football and basketball games at Westerville South in 2003. He also announces softball, men’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s soccer games at Ohio State University. Bannister said being a parent and working in the community helped him see the needs of its members. “It occurred to me that any time a community [member] put their hand up and says, ‘We need help with this,’ the community usually rushes in and supports it,” Bannister said. “I thought, why can’t we do that everyday?”

Hilary Stone, who also nominated Bannister, said she has watched Neighborhood Bridges grow over the years. Stone, manager of donor stewardship, research and analytics at the Columbus Foundation, said Neighborhood Bridges represents the desire for community members to help neighbors and lift each other up. “It seems like he created a very scalable model that can be applied and adopted by many different communities,” Stone said.

Over the years, Neighborhood Bridges has expanded to nine cities in Ohio: Dublin, Hilliard, Gahanna, Grove City, New Albany, Sycamore, Upper Arlington, Westerville and Worthington. Bannister has also expanded to four cities in Alabama with help from his brother David, who lives there.

“I am trying to be very thoughtful about how we expand,” Bannister said. “It’s a good thing, and I don’t want to fail.”