A glorious day on Saturday welcomed more than 400 volunteers who worked on 36 homes throughout South Whidbey on the 20th anniversary of Hearts & Hammers. Needed repairs were given to homeowners like John and Micky O’Brien, who could not do the work alone. John just turned 80 and despite keeping busy with upkeep on his house, some things he can no longer do, like climbing up a ladder.
“He fell off a ladder three times,” his wife Micky said, although John jokingly added, “It was a bad ladder.”
“Every time our neighbors saw him on a ladder, they’d say, ‘Oh no, there he goes again.’”
When birds started building nests in the side of their house they needed help.
Micky described the experience with Hearts & Hammers as “fantastic. They are very nice people. They called ahead, looked everything over to see what they could do and ended up doing more than we expected.”
Not only were the holes the birds were creating filled, the garden was tended, a tree removed, nails were pounded back in and the side of the house was painted.
“My neighbors will appreciate that,” Micky said of the new paint job.
When House Captain Rod Stewart arrived, he introduced himself to the neighbor whose house is close in proximity, explained what they would be doing and where the ladders would be set.
“I think they are really good friends now,” Micky said.
June Fry was also grateful to the Hearts & Hammers team for replacing her roof and windows on a room in the back of her house, where she raises her beloved orchids. She has lived on Whidbey for 40 years and stayed active all her life as a gardener and weaver.
“There are things I just can’t do anymore,” June said. “I can’t believe how wonderful it is, all the work they are doing,”
House Captain Chris Dance was enthusiastically enjoying his first year with Hearts & Hammers. “Whatever I can do to help,” seemed his motto as he vowed to return next year. “It took so little for me to do this work and June was so grateful.”
Another homeowner, Janet Talbot, said she had received help before from the all-volunteer program, but this was a big year. The back side of the roof was replaced, large areas around the house were weeded and debris hauled away. She had received a bid to replace the roof but could not afford it. After encouragement from friends, she called for help.
“It’s hard to ask for help, but I want to pay it back next year somehow,” Janet said, adding she could still clean houses if needed. Janet and her family came to Whidbey in 1974 and lived in a small trailer on the property for several years while they built their home. “We’ve always been able to do things for ourselves,” she said, but not any longer.
When House Captain Glen Jones, known for asking for the toughest jobs, started working on Janet’s roof, he said the old roof would not have lasted another year.
It is not only the homeowner who feels gifted on the workday. Volunteers express gratitude for being able to help.
Marcia Wiley has been a house captain since the first Hearts & Hammers work day 20 years ago.
“I was recruited by Lynn Willeford that first year, because she wanted women included as house captains,” Marcia said. “I had intended to volunteer that first year, but could not imagine being a house captain right off. Now I can’t imagine not being a house captain.”
Asked about her toughest job, she never hesitated a moment to describe a job where the crew pressure washed a roof two days before the work day and all the roofing blew off. What was to be a simple repair job suddenly turned into a whole roof replacement. It took two crews four days to finish that job. Despite the surprises than can happen along the way, she still describes the work as, “The best feel good thing you can do. Everyone gets something. I always feel like I receive more than I give.”
Stig Branbfors at 76 has volunteered for the last two years. Barely able to walk without assistance, he had a double hip replacement and found a new lease on life.
“I got my life back. I was ready to go to work,” Stig said.
Tom Cahill has volunteered for the last 10 years and will never forget the first morning he came to Hearts & Hammers workday expecting to see 40 or 50 volunteers and found instead 400.
“It is the most incredible community day,” Tom said. “Everyone wins. People who are helped often come back to help the next year.”
One of the largest crews on Saturday worked on the home of Pat McFarland, who at 85 still works one day a week at the Kristen Gallery in Seattle. Moss was removed from the roof, scrubbed and pressure washed, a rotting deck replaced and her beautiful landscaping unburied from the weeds and trees.
“People worked their heads off,” Pat said. “I never expected so much work to get done. They were so knowledgeable and through and happy about the whole thing.”
She was visited four times before the work day and House Captain Don LaMontagne had several master gardeners on hand to ask and advise about plants in her yard. After suffering a broken back and a bad reaction to the Shingles vaccination, receiving help was a blessing.
“This is a wonderful community,” Pat said.
Janet Hall supervises the hauling away of all the debris collected on the work day. Five 20 yard containers were taken, compliments of Island Disposal, and disposed for free by Island County. Island Recycling takes all the metal collected on work day. Curt Gordon offers his site at Island Asphalt to gather all the materials and supervises all the truckers. With a phone at each ear, he praised the drivers that show up each year to volunteer their time, asking for no reward.
But there is a reward at the end of the work day as the crews and homeowners come to the high school to talk about their amazing day and enjoy a delicious dinner, prepared this year by the crew at Useless Bay Coffee Company and owner Des Rock. Chef Dan Fulton prepared over 200 pounds of Yucatan pulled pork sandwiches; salads including both coleslaw and quinoa with chick peas in a pomegranate vinaigrette, and baked beans.
A call went out to the community for rhubarb and 100 pounds were donated for the dessert, prepared by Kara Jacobs for the rhubarb apple crisp.
“It takes a whole community to make the work day such a success,” said Hearts & Hammers President Jim Scullin. Everyone gives what they can, suppliers give needed materials at cost, volunteers give of their time, and many donate money, allowing all the work to be done at no cost to the homeowner.
“This is an example of some of the best this community offers,” Scullin said.
For more information or to donate to this cause, go to the web site www.heartsandhammers.com.