Brooklynite Shane Blodgett, an avid birder and local bluegrass musician, was recently diagnosed with inoperable, incurable Stage 4 Lung Cancer. But Blodgett and his family are not alone, and have found a whole borough of people ready to support him, paying it forward for the advocacy and kindness he and his wife, Rachel Maurer, have shown to their community.
In just about a month, an online fundraiser created on Blodgett’s behalf has raised almost $50,000, which has allowed the family to try every option that could potentially benefit Blodgett, such as acupuncture, which is said to ease the pain caused by lung cancer.
Along with donations, many messages sharing well wishes poured in as well, a number of which described the impact Blodgett and Maurer had on their lives.
“Sorry to hear about this and I’m wishing the best to you and yours,” wrote neighbor Scott Whittle on GoFundMe. “You were key in getting me into birding, and I hope you have many more years of having that kind of influence on the people around you!”’
“We are thinking and praying for Shane! Rachel, while we don’t know you personally, the community that you run has helped our family through some very difficult times by providing a place for love, advice and hope,” wrote Anne Laraway. “We wish we could help you and your family more.”
Blodgett’s role at the center of local bluegrass jams
Blodgett plays a large part in both hobby groups he is involved in: the local birding community and the Brooklyn bluegrass community, and he is known for his dedication and willingness to lend a helping hand to his fellow music lover or bird watcher.
Many might recognize Blodgett from his regular performances at the weekly bluegrass jam at Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, which he works hard to still attend and perform at despite having to use oxygen. His fellow bluegrass enthusiasts say they will do everything they can to keep the space safe for Blodgett’s continued appearance.
“I hope they know if there is something we can do that make it possible for him to show up at the jams,” said Liz Schnore, the musical coordinator at Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club. “They should never feel any problem reaching out to me or all the other people in the group. As long as he feels comfortable coming, we will do whatever it takes to keep him coming.”
Blodgett’s electric personality is essential to Sunny’s Bar jams because he gets the crowd going and excited to hear the music — and his powerful baritone voice can pull the audience in from all the way in the back of the room.
“Shane has been a mainstay on the scene for many years, he has a strong loud baritone voice that can rise above the din and chatter of the back room at Sunny’s bar and captivate the attention of everyone in the audience,” said Tim Davis, who has been performing with Blodgett at Sunny’s jams for the past eight years. “It’s a powerful voice that can lift up a room and invites a crowd to sing along with him.”
Like many of the jammers that attend Sunny’s every Saturday night, Davis said Blodgett is juggling family and work, but still shows so much passion every weekend for the music, and never lets life get in the way.
“Like many of us, Shane would attend Tone Johansen’s Saturday Night Bluegrass jam at Sunny’s Bar with the regularity of a religious service,” he said. “Like many of us, he is a devoted husband and father who is juggling work and family life in a Brooklyn that is becoming harder and harder for middle-class people to live and raise a family in but thankfully [he] still has these amazing creative outlets that can help us express all that joy and frustration and heal from the blows that can hurl at us from time to time.”
‘The desire to just do good’
Blodgett also manages to show the same exuberant passion for his other hobby, bird watching.
“What I’ve noticed most with Shane both in his music and in birding, is just personal excellence and the strive for that in a community,” said Sean Sime, a friend of Blodgett’s who he met while birding. “I don’t think Shane would be Shane without the communities that he’s a part of. I think that’s so much of it for him.”
Blodgett is the type of birder fellow hobbyists call a lister, which means he aims to see as many avian species as possible.
He is a key player within the borough’s birding community, known as an expert on spotting various gulls in the wintertime when it is notoriously difficult to pick the waterfowl out— staying vigilant long after the average birder would have grown too bored to continue. His renown has grown to the point where fellow bird watchers tag along on his birding ventures if they have any hope of spotting a gull.
“The thing that most birders really know about Shane is that he is always trying to look through common stuff and find rarities, he is really well known for finding really rare gulls so like in conditions in the winter when everyone wants to be inside and watching TV and sipping hot cocoa, he’s out there in whatever frozen place gulls are congregating,” Sime said. “He just has this ability to tune in with a laser focus and pore over things where the average person is going to get really bored really quickly and move on.”
One year, Blodgett, Sime and another one of their friends, Rob Jett, made a goal for how many birds they could spot that year and estimated maybe 300 birds — Blodgett was the only one to meet the goal, putting eyes on 342 different species that year.
“We decided as the three of us to try and see how many birds we could see in New York State that year. It started off we all thought maybe the three of us could all see 300 species in the state which is a huge endeavor,” Sime said. “But Shane, just his personality, he just always want to do things in birding to like the Nth degree. He just went the whole hog, and he wound up seeing 342 species which at that point was a New York State record.”
Sime describes his friend as a team player— a person who keeps an eye out for everyone to make sure they are treated as fairly as everyone else and another fellow birder, Anne Lazarus, shared an anecdote about Shane helping her catch sight of a rare bird when she thought she wouldn’t be able to.
“I’ve just always been amazed at his constant desire for things to be right and things to be fair and to have communities fostering and educating,” Sime said. “Even in all the hubbub, he just seems to always have this desire to just do good.”
“Shane is such a caring person. A rare bird, an Atlantic Puffin appeared [on a birdwatching trip]. People ran to the railing to see it, but I was not fast enough. I decided I just was not going to see that bird. Shane saw me and asked why I was not at the railing,” Lazarus said. “I told him that I did not think there was enough room. He immediately spoke up and requested that room be made for me. The people were so understanding and stepped back. I saw the Atlantic Puffin, a life bird. Some people are so thoughtful and aware of others. Shane is one of them.”
Blodgett has hundreds of people rooting for him in his fight against cancer, and that number only multiplies when adding in the people who are pushing for him through knowing his wife, Maurer, who is a well-known education advocate in the Big Apple.
‘She’s touched so many people’
“I would venture to guess that Rachel has touched, easily, 250,000 families over the years,” said Susan Fox, the president of Park Slope Parents and the organizer of Blodgett’s GoFundMe. “There are few people who have touched so many parents and community members in Brooklyn over the past 15 years. That’s why we’ve seen such an outpouring — she’s touched so many people in so many different ways.”
Maurer is the second in command at Park Slope Parents, where she handles a number of different tasks to keep the group running smoothly. She launched a Listserv, an email mailing list, to help parents navigate raising a teenager in New York City — Parents of New York Teens and Young Adults, and also heads the Brooklyn Special Kids for parents of children with special needs after its former moderator had to step down.
“She was a major force in creating the great [Park Slope Parents] community. Not only does she do the lion’s share of the moderating, she provides such important input on a whole host of things related to keeping the community alive, supportive and growing,” Fox said. “Rachel has an older child who turned into a teenager when Park Slope Parents was in its infancy. As PSP was focused on younger kids, she started Parents of New York Teens and Young adults which covers the whole New York City area.”
“Rachel also has a special needs child and was part of the Brooklyn Special Kids group. When the founder of that group got busy with other things, Rachel stepped in to help with that group as well and has kept it going,” she added.
Maurer has always taken the initiative to equip other parents with the knowledge to make the best decisions for their children, and has impacted thousands of parents across New York City whether directly or indirectly, with one describing the group as a light in the life of a parent in New York City.
“Mostly she’s incredible because she— with Susan Fox and perhaps some others that I don’t know behind the scenes— are the heart and soul of the Park Slope Parents groups and Rachel also runs the separate IO group for parents of NY teens and young adults,” Jeanne Solomon wrote in an email to Brooklyn Paper. “Those listservs, those groups, have made my world as a parent and a Brooklynite and New Yorker technicolor instead of drab. Day in and day out Rachel works to keep the listservs and groups running and keep us all connected.”
The money donated to Blodgett’s GoFundMe so far has funded different chemotherapy options as well as treatments that have helped to keep him comfortable and as pain-free as possible, according to updates posted by Maurer. The family is hoping to raise about $11,000 more for Blodgett’s care.