CORTLAND - Over the last few weeks, Joy Taylor and Scarlett McNeilly have fed fish at Pymatuning, visited Amish country, ridden a tractor and shared a Thanksgiving meal.
All in all, nothing too out of the ordinary - until you consider what brought these women into each other's lives.
Like thousands of others, Hurricane Sandy drove Taylor from her Long Island home. Unlike many others, though, her ordeal was compounded by the fact that she suffers from a traumatic brain injury.
Joy Taylor, right, and Scarlett McNeilly laugh last week. Taylor has been staying with McNeilly since Hurricane Sandy. The women met through a Facebook brain injury support group.
So she turned where she often turns for help: a Facebook support group. And thanks to that group, Taylor has been living in Cortland since early November with McNeilly, a member of the group who suffers a similar brain injury, and her husband, Jim McNeilly.
Taylor, 49, was injured in 2001 when her car was T-boned by another vehicle that drove through a stop sign in California where she lived.
"I was a software engineer and designed databases ..." Taylor said, "then I couldn't even count to three."
Diagnosed with at Post Concussion Syndrome or a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and unable to return to work, she moved to Long Island to be closer to her treatment and rehabilitation centers.
For years she suffered from double vision, saying that even moving objects can be unsettling. And 11 years later, she said she still struggles with "abstractions ... anything that involves creating a new structure."
For support, she joined several Facebook groups for those coping with similar injuries. In the groups, Taylor said, "a brain injury is a brain injury" and members find help and encouragement from others.
One of those "others" was Scarlett McNeilly.
McNeilly, 57, received a TBI in 2010 after slipping and falling at a resort. She said the doctors initially called it a concussion but "after a while, if it doesn't get better, they say you have a brain injury."
After two years of therapy, McNeilly, who used to have more than 400 clients at her hair salon, is now only able to give a few haircuts each week at the "retirement salon" that is attached to her home. After that, she becomes exhausted.
Following her injury, McNeilly was extremely sensitive to light and sound and confined herself to a dark bedroom for months on end. Her injury also made it difficult for her to concentrate on different tasks such as filing paperwork.
"You lose your sense of self," she said, "but Jim was right there with me."
Like Taylor, McNeilly turned to Facebook for support; there she found Taylor and the two developed a friendship over the past two years. So when Taylor posted that her apartment was flooded, McNeilly immediately offered her home as refuge.
Taylor's apartment had lost power from the storm and she was forced to live in a Red Cross shelter with 700 to 900 others eating FEMA meals.
"It's not a place you want to be," Taylor said, "being a transplant from California, I didn't know enough people to stay with."
She kept concerned friends updated through Facebook by using WiFi at the few locations in the city with backup generators, but "after the seventh or eighth day, I pretty much had it," she said.
Her Facebook group couldn't take it any longer either and began to organize for Taylor to stay with McNeilly.
Jim McNeilly, a pilot with the Youngstown-Warren Air Reserve Station, was in Missouri when his wife called and told him to expect company when he got home.
"We had no idea the extent of Joy's condition, and, with my wife sometimes struggling to just get through the day, what we may be getting into," said Jim McNeilly later in an email. "All I knew was that my wife's friend who struggles with basic things in life was scared and had nowhere to go and nobody that understood her to aid her there."
The Facebook group bought Taylor a one-way ticket from New York to Pittsburgh.
Mentally weary from the chaos of her living situation, she had to be reassured by McNeilly of the history of their friendship before she flew. Her flight left just hours before winter storm Athena hit New York on Nov. 7. Had it not left when it did, Taylor said her flight would have been canceled.
Driven by a friend, McNeilly made the trip to the airport and waited with a handmade sign, all along the way posting photos to the Facebook group so they could track Taylor's journey.
The women spent a few days getting acquainted before Jim McNeilly arrived home.
"As it turned out," emailed Jim McNeilly, "it was most assuredly the right thing to do. They have become good friends and find that they can understand their problems together better than anyone else."
The pair have been adventuring around the area and have been learning to live with each other without "getting in each other's space," which McNeilly said can be exhausting for anyone with a TBI.
The two visited the Pymatuning Spillway in Linesville, Pa., to feed the fish and took a trip to Amish county. They have enjoyed cooking with one another, interacting with their Facebook groups, and having new experiences. Taylor rode a tractor for the first time and after two years of not driving a car, and McNeilly - with Taylor's encouragement - began driving again.
"She's really helped me, when I thought we were helping her," McNeilly said.
Though power has returned to Taylor's New York apartment, Jim McNeilly is concerned that she may be returning to an unsafe place, so she hasn't. Taylor - whom McNeilly used to refer to as "Joy of New York" - is now nicknamed "Joy of Ohio."
She celebrated Thanksgiving with the McNeillys and has even considered moving here.
"It is much more affordable; the people are friendly," she said, "though the weather is trippy."
"I have only seen these two enjoy and experience things like they are seeing them for the first time" Jim McNeilly said, "and this just makes your heart want to explode with joy."