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The Reach-In

two hands, one dark skin and one light skin, reaching for one another against a painted n underwater background.

“Reach in and offer a hand to hold, an ear to listen, but do not assume that the person in need will take it. Be gentle and humble.”

- Erin Gilmer

My friend, the late disability activist and attorney, Erin Gilmer, was the first to teach me about the need to reach-in, not just asking people to reach out. 


In turn, she had been inspired by a piece of writing by Omid Safi and in particular a story he shared on his blog. 

“There is a story told and retold in the Middle East about how to help someone who’s drowning.

The story goes that a man had fallen into a river. He was not much of a swimmer and was in real danger of drowning. A crowd of concerned people wanted to rescue him. They were standing at the edge of the water, each of them urgently shouting out to him:

“Give me your hand, give me your hand!”

The man was battling the waves and ignored their urgent plea. He kept going under and was clearly struggling to take another breath.

A saintly man walked up to the scene. He too cared about the drowning man. But his approach was different. Calmly he walked up to the water, waded in up to his knees, glanced lovingly at the drowning man, and said:

“Take my hand.”

Much to everyone’s surprise, the drowning man reached out and grabbed the saint’s hand. The two came out of the dangerous water. The drowning man sat up at the edge of the water, breathing heavily, looking relieved, exhausted, and grateful.

The crowd turned towards the saint and asked in complete puzzlement: “How were you able to reach him when he didn’t heed our plea?” The saint calmly said:

“You all asked him for something, his hand. I offered him something, my hand. A drowning man is in no position to give you anything.”


Inspired by Erin, the Reach-In is a model of community building and care. Unlike the “wellness checks” or “check-ins” this model emphasizes consent and offers of help. 


The Reach-In requires us to see people individually but organize to act collectively. 


This page will be updated with more details about creating a Reach-In response where you live.

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