About “Friends & Neighbors”

Friends & Neighbors began as a podcast in 2020 when journalist and filmmaker Benjamin Wagner’s sought to continue a conversation begun by in his PBS Documentary, Mister Rogers & Me.

“Deep and simple,” Fred Rogers told him one quiet night on Nantucket, “is far more essential than shallow and complex.”

Initial episodes explored how our friends and neighbors cultivate depth and simplicity in their own complex lives and sought to glean substantive insights about our guest’s life experiences, and specific, personal, and actionable approaches to living a deep and simple life: building community, managing possession, and seeking reflection.

As COVID raged, and Benjamin was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome in 2021, episodes began to touch on mental health. Conversations in early 2022 with Author Michael Tyler, State Senator Sarah McBride, and Director of Artist Development Martine Joelle McDonald about adolescent trauma, authenticity and healing helped him realize that he had a second film to make with his production partner and brother, Christofer, that would embrace and expand on another classic Fredism:

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.

Production began in April 2022, and wrapped in March 2023. The 75-minute documentary premiered at The Heartland Film Festival in October, 2023.

In the Friends & Neighbors, Benjamin returns to his own developmental traumas to better understand their causes, context, and impact. He move through his career to recognize how chronic stress maladapt our nervous systems, contribute to shallow and complex lives, and drive culturally approved coping mechanisms and poor health outcomes.

And he, in the words of television icon Fred Rogers, “looks for the helpers” in post-pandemic America, the people who are working to make themselves and the communities around them whole and helping heal a deeply anxious and uncertain population.

People like friend, Anne Kubitsky, who’s Look for the Good Project is bringing social-emotional wellness, resilience and hope to grammar schools across America.

People like neighbor, Sarah McBride, whose election as America’s first transgender state senator accelerated dignity, equality, and a level playing field for all.

People like friend, Michael Tyler, who channeled the traumas of troubled inner-city childhood into the Carl Sandburg Literary Award-winning children’s book, The Skin You Live In.

People like neighbor Logan Herring, whose purpose-built community development is combating decades of structural racism, wealth inequality and systemic neglect through affordable food, housing and health care.

People like friends Kelli Rae Powell, Matthew Tousignant, and Lauren Scott, whose therapies bring healing through music, movement, and education.

And neighbors like Delaware’s former Community and Family Services Director Alonna Berry and The Center for Change’s Winden Rowe, whose advocacy is changing the lens through which society sees trauma.

By sharing our stories and journeys, we make space for others to do the same, and provide roadmaps for healing, and strategies for healthier lives and communities.

Because, as Fred Rogers often said, when we “make the mentionable manageable,” we find a way forward together. And “when we look for the helpers, we know that there’s hope.”