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Queen for a day

Royalty watches over this year
Royalty watches over this year's Hearts & Hammers workday.
— image credit: Renée Bourque photo

Volunteers tackle 50 projects

CLINTON — It wasn’t just the tiara that sparkled.

It was also the light in Lilly Tucker’s eyes.

Tucker looked out across her yard Saturday as dozens of volunteers from Hearts & Hammers fanned out from one side of her property to the other, cleaning out sheds and hauling away unneeded odds-and-ends, weeding garden beds, raking leaves, and doing other chores.

“This is one of the best things that could happen to a person — especially when you’re 90,” Tucker said.

“Honey, this was a mess, believe me,” she said as she looked across the expansive property on Cultus Bay Road. Tucker, like others helped during Hearts & Hammers annual one-day work blitz, said the property was more than she could handle at her age.

“I just couldn’t take care of it,” Tucker said.

Not so for a crew of 36 or so from Hearts & Hammers, a South Whidbey nonprofit organization that assists the elderly and those who are physically unable to do home maintenance and repairs.

Renée Bourque, the “house captain” in charge of the clean-up project at Tucker’s place, said the crew was the largest team ever assembled for a single project during the annual work party.

Advance planning

The team’s to-do list was long, she added, but planning began early so the group could complete the job in one day.

“I made a job matrix and sent it out to everybody who was on each crew, assigned a lead to each crew, a list of the tools they needed and the tasks they would do, so they didn’t show up and spend a lot of time getting orientated,” she said.

Bourque visited Tucker five or six times before the big clean-up day, making sure the workday would go as planned. She also assigned a personal assistant to Tucker to help make decisions on what to toss out before the workday, so Tucker would not be under pressure on Saturday.

Other work was also done in advance. A two-person pruning crew arrived the day before to get overgrown plants out of the way.

Still, there was plenty of work left over for Saturday’s Hearts & Hammers workday.

“The gutters were cleaned, there were some carpentry jobs. There was a lot of cleaning out of structures,” she added, such as an old garden shed and an outbuilding that once housed an antique shop.

“There was a gardening crew and they cleaned out flower beds, there was a pruning crew, they did things like cut down blackberries,” Bourque said.

She noted one tree on the property that disappeared into blackberry bushes about 20 feet high.

There was plenty of debris to cart away, as well. Bourque said it probably amounted to 50 cubic yards of material, and the group made do when it could only get one large dump truck to help out. People pitched in with their own pick-ups.

“When it became clear we would have to become an armada of trucks, everybody rose to it,” Bourque said. “We just had one going off after the next.”

Added benefits

Julie O’Brien said the volunteer effort didn’t just help Tucker.

O’Brien, who first signed up for the workday three years ago after she helped put together the organization’s Website, spent part of the day weeding in a flower bed at the front of Tucker’s home.

“I do it as much for myself as I do for the folks. I walk away feeling real good,” O’Brien said.

“Everybody just had a wonderful positive energy about what they were doing,” added Bourque. “There was no irritation, no turf wars, no negativity to dampen the excitement and the joy.”

Enter the Queen

Bourque also made Tucker a “queen for the day.”

In a coronation ceremony before the Hearts & Hammers crew went to work, they crowned her with a tiara, much to Tucker’s delight.

“I was flabbergasted,” Tucker said.

“They’re certainly doing a wonderful job,” she added as she watched the volunteers in action. “I’m so proud of them.”

Jim Scullin, the “house general” for the work day, said volunteers completed about 50 projects. Those included the work of groups like the Wood Chucks, a team that split and delivered 30 cords of wood to homeowners on the work day.

“The average crew was about seven or eight people, and it mostly would involve 50 percent structural repair and 50 percent yard clean-up,” Scullin said.

Homes are picked on the basis of needed improvements that cover health and safety issues, he said.

Rob Hetler, president of Hearts & Hammers, said the workday helped homeowners from the south tip of the island to just north of Greenbank.

He estimated that roughly 6,500 volunteer hours were amassed during the annual work day. More than 480 people signed up to help.

“People here are spectacular. I am so impressed by their willingness to come out and spend a day helping their neighbors, it’s really heartening to see that,” Hetler said.

“It’s Whidbey Island. It’s just how we are here.”

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