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Pam Washek, 47

Wayland, Mass.

SUDDENLY VULNERABLE: A mom of three and avid cyclist, Washek was a model of self-sufficiency. But after a test revealed cancer, she came to rely on people who raised their hands to cook, clean and shuttle her kids to soccer. "I was touched," Washek says, "by how the community embraced us."

NEIGHBORS IN NEED: Working with friend Jean Seiden (who died of cancer in '06), she organized the acts of kindness into a volunteer network that started as a 40-person e-mail chain. That grew into Neighbor Brigade (neighborbrigade.org), whose 3,200 members help families in crisis.

THERE WHEN YOU NEED THEM: Dozens of strangers have driven Nick Panzeri, 39, of Billerica, to cognitive therapy while he recovers from brain-tumor surgery. "I feel so much less alone," says his wife, Sara. So does Brianna Anthony, whose family had meals delivered to them after losing their Natick home in a fire. "These people," she says, "really care."

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