The weather was perfect.
That gave the 450 volunteers of South Whidbey Hearts & Hammers a good start to the annual work day this past Saturday.
Volunteers worked diligently all day, bringing a collective sigh of relief to 46 homeowners. Ramps were built, roofs repaired, yards cleaned and windows made brighter. It also brightened the spirits of the volunteers, who gave the day to help their South Whidbey neighbors.
Truth be told, this writer has been a part of Hearts & Hammers for over 10 years, joining hundreds of people who help by donating time, materials, money and support to help build a stronger community. But to tell the story best, I went to the source — the home owners.
After a long career making designer window coverings, Christine Lofgren can no longer do the work needed at her home.
“I wouldn’t be able to stay in my home without this kind of help,” Lofgren said.
This year, her team of “hearts” cleaned out her garage, weeded the garden and repaired a rotten back step. This is the third year H&H has helped the homeowner, having built her a ramp, removed moss from her roof and cleaned the yard in past years.
“It’s wonderful what they do,” she said.
“They all just jump in with enthusiasm and do it, which inspires me to do more.”
Clair and Harold Engstrom, former volunteers for H&H, have come to a time in their lives when they need help.
“It is good to have someone to turn to,” Clair Engstrom said.
“We wanted to help in the past, but now the community is giving back to us.”
“I always liked the Hearts & Hammers idea,” Harold added, “they really help with things an old man can’t do anymore.”
For one of the volunteers, age is not a limitation. Loretta Wilson, 81, is enjoying her fourth year working for H&H.
“I really feel I make a difference in my life and in theirs,” Wilson said.
She shines with grace as she describes her 14 years working with the Family Resource Center and Good Cheer.
Her workday partner in cleaning, Mary Richardson, was very impressed with Wilson’s abilities.
“We stacked firewood for four hours, and then came inside to see what could be done,” Richardson said.
Together they cleaned the large windows inside the house, greatly improving the view for the Engstroms, adding a bit more light into their home.
“It makes us a community,” Richardson said of the volunteer work accomplished that day.
Some jobs can turn out bigger than expected, which happened at Karen Vogeler’s home.
The repair of a deck turned into more of a replacement. Vogeler appreciated the team’s efforts and their great attitude, despite the unexpected turn of events.
“Everyone was surprised at what was needed for the deck,” Vogeler said. “But their attitude was wonderful. All the volunteers were great and cheerful, and just started on what was put in front of them.”
It’s not just age that prevents some homeowners from doing the work needed on their homes. Kate took great pride in working on her home and garden at one time, but illness and the financial strain of medical bills prevented her from doing the work she always enjoyed. Having been a nurse at Harborview Medical Center and a caregiver all her life, she found it difficult to ask for the help she needed. Encouragement from her friends finally pushed her.
“I’m extremely grateful to the people who helped me,” Kate said. “Everyone is so kind and thoughtful. They make it appear as if I’m doing them a favor.”
Seeing a clean roof, her beloved garden back in great shape and the absence of the hanging Garden of Babylon extruding from her gutters made her so appreciative.
“I don’t know what I would do,” she said. “I couldn’t stay in my home without this kind of help.”
Karen Sur also understands how physical disability can limit taking care of a home. She has suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for 22 years. Although she never considered herself disabled, she said things can get to a point when it becomes overwhelming and help is necessary.
“The day I got my letter of acceptance (from H&H) I cried for an hour,” Sur said.
Sur worked for years as a social worker and sometimes at a domestic violence shelter, but her toughest challenge was learning to receive help.
“It is part of the circle of life to learn both sides,” Sur said. “It was hard to ask, but it’s like a blessing after such a long struggle, to learn to ask for the help you need.”
She can’t wait to give back, and intends to help however she can, next year.
“It’s a blessing to live in this community,” Sur said, also adding that she was amazed by the “comaradery of the volunteers,” who repaired a deck she has not been able to walk on for two years because it was so unsafe.
One example of a team’s heroic effort won an outpouring of praise from their house captain, Jack Husband. It’s an appreciation that was repeated all over South Whidbey on Saturday, but there’s not enough room in the paper to tell all the stories.
Husband and his crew filled 11 truckloads of waste and debris from one home, with one truck carrying a 10-yard capacity. They also built a ramp, took the moss off the roof and shed, cleaned the yard and uncovered and cleaned a beautiful rock collection buried for years under debris.
Homeowner Robert Meyer, 92, has lived in his home for 21 years. He was “surprised and amazed” at the amount of work accomplished
in just one day. When asked how he felt about the work, he simply answered, “Very happy.”
So where do all those trucks unload?
The dozen volunteer truckers bring their loads to the parking lot at Curt Gordon’s business on Midvale Road. Gordon (known by his team as Capt’n Curt) coordinated the drivers from each work location to his yard, where the trash was sorted by another team of volunteers. The waste crew, jokingly said they would be throwing away their work clothes at the end of the day.
Gordon praised his team, who year after year selflessly volunteer, not looking for any recognition, but just “helping out for no other reason than (because) it’s the right thing to do.”
Thanks to the generosity of Island County Waste Disposal and coordinator Janet Hall, all the trash is disposed for free. Hall reported filling five 20-yard dumpsters with waste, more than another full dumpster with metal, a truckload of appliances and one more truckload of tires. All the hazardous waste was sorted out and safely disposed of.
Besides help with homes and hauling trash, 47 truckloads of wood were cut, split and delivered to those in need by the volunteer team known as the Woodchucks. Woodchuck coordinator Kevin Lungren worked with the team at Trinity Lutheran Church parking lot to load the wood, some of which was auctioned off at the dinner that evening, raising more than $1,500 for Hearts & Hammers.
At the end of the work day, the volunteers and homeowners were treated to music, massage and a gourmet dinner at the South Whidbey High School prepared and donated by the team from Ivar’s, with help from the volunteer kitchen team coordinated by Hearts & Hammers leader Shellie Moore. Chef Craig Breeden brought 180 pounds of marinated pork tenderloin with mango and jalapeno salsa, salad, rice and a dessert of chocolate chip bread pudding. It was a perfectly delicious wrap-up to a long day.
The Hearts & Hammers workday can be difficult to describe in the magnitude and scope of its accomplishments. Hearts & Hammer President Jim Scullin found that to be true, but on behalf of the organization’s board he offered, “A simple thank you to each and everyone who was a part of the Hearts & Hammers workday 2012. Beyond that, words fail me,” Scullin said.
Until next May, HEART (Home Emergency Action Repair Team) offers help to homeowners throughout the year for emergency needs that can’t wait until the first Saturday in May.
Find more information or to donate to this effort, visit www.heartsandhammers.com or call 221-6063.