When the phone rang at 3 a.m. one day in June, Jesse and Evelyn Cook had no idea what was coming next.
Their neighbor, Helen Amick, had fallen. A medical alert was programmed to call them, two doors down.
At the hospital, the doctor told Amick, an 89-year-old single woman with degenerative heart failure, she could no longer live alone.
The Cooks, in their 70s themselves, didn't hesitate. They brought their neighbor home to live with them.
"I said, 'I know I'm going to end up going into the nursing home,'" Amick recalled. "Jesse and Evelyn said, 'Not if we have anything to do with it.'"
The three of them, neighbors for 24 years, are part of the story of Hickory Ridge - a story of meeting challenges with compassion.
Their community off Leesburg Road, attractive to military families, was built in the 1970s. There was once an 18-hole golf course at one end of the neighborhood; the last of it is being converted into a subdivision now.
As the years marched on, more of the modest homes became rental properties, some subsidized.
Then last year, the neighborhood organization disbanded.
But rather than let people go their separate ways, a new group got together in January at the sheriff's substation, intent on salvaging a sense of community.
"I can't brag enough on the people of this neighborhood," said Jim McCauley, 75, who became president.
"They all have one thing in common. ... This is a vital part of their lives in their later years."
The neighborhood has come to life.
In the past nine months, people have started to garden, inspired by donations of topsoil, fertilizer and lime the neighborhood group solicited from Wal-Mart.
The group has sponsored a yard sale, cookouts, a neighborhood cleanup day and a back-to-school "bash" with so many supplies donated there was plenty left to give to the sheriff's department and Sistercare.
Neighbors collected money to buy 15 bicycles as prizes at the annual family track meet, held two weeks ago at Lower Richland High School.
Children - including teenagers at loose ends, wandering the streets - are a calling for the people involved with the Hickory Ridge Neighborhood Association.
While there are few young families living in the 528 homes that make up Hickory Ridge, McCauley said, there are many grandparents raising their grandchildren.
"It's amazing," he said. "They cope with it. They're proud of their grandkids."
Attendance at monthly meetings has grown from eight people in the beginning to an average of 50 people.
McCauley is open about the neighborhood's problems but equally quick to praise his neighbors and the Richland County Sheriff's Department.
"We have crime here. We have gangs here. We have drugs here," he said. "But it has really improved."
His approach has been to embolden residents and encourage a populist approach to neighborhood business. Renters as well as homeowners are encouraged to participate.
"They wanted someone there to say, 'This is your community; come and be a part of it,'" said McCauley, a people person whose career path led him from a factory job to sales and then marketing.
McCauley has set up a system of block captains to circulate news around the neighborhood. A monthly newsletter makes note of new residents and recent deaths. In each instance, someone visits the family.
"Everything to me in this neighborhood is great. You notice I haven't moved out," said Julia English, who raised three children, including basketball legend Jo Jo English, in Hickory Ridge. She and her husband, Steve, have lived there 36 years.
English said the neighborhood group is growing in part because McCauley has reinforced relations with the sheriff's department.
"Sometimes I go on my front porch, and they're passing," she said. "I think they're keeping their eyes on anything that may turn out to be some kind of little gang group or whatever."
Capt. Robert Ragland, with the department's southeast region, said the folks who live in Hickory Ridge are doing just what he has encouraged them to do - calling to report their concerns when they see something that doesn't look quite right.
"It's relatively quiet," Ragland said, "and we don't really get that many calls for service in that neighborhood."
As for the Cooks, they're still working out a routine for life with Amick.
Medicare pays for a companion who comes by for five hours, three days a week, allowing Amick to spend some time in her own home. The break also gives Evelyn Cook an opportunity to run errands.
Sundays, though, have proved a challenge. The Cooks can't go to church together, as they customarily have, because Amick needs help with breakfast and dressing for her own church services.
"People say, 'Why do you do that? Why can't it be someone else?' There is no one else," Evelyn Cook said.
Husband Jesse said his service in the Navy provided a cushion for retirement that allows him to provide for his family - and Amick, too.
"If you can do it, why not help someone else?" he said. "Why not?"