Giving a hand up

Neighbors Helping Neighbors sees record turnout of volunteers to
by: VERN UYETAKE Sara Pylate cleans up a home in the Sunset neighborhood of West Linn during the Saturday Neighbors Helping Neighbors events.

Saturday's rain didn't deter a record number of volunteers from showing up for West Linn's fourth Neighbors Helping Neighbors event.

'It was a really rainy day, but it didn't stop 350 volunteers from turning out,' said Bridget Saladino, city project coordinator.

The community clean-up event helps West Linn residents who are elderly or have limited mobility clean up their yards.

This year, volunteers tended to projects at 29 houses in the city. Families, church groups, the Rotary members, Master Gardeners and business employees worked from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday morning, with many choosing to stay later and continue contributing. Volunteers ranged from 2 to 82 years old, Saladino said.

She said almost half of this year's volunteers were new.

First-timer Julia McBridge said she volunteered to help the community because, 'We love West Linn.'

Nathan Pylate agreed, noting that he enjoyed working at a house in his own neighborhood.

'I think it's a good idea,' he said.

McBridge and Pylate were working at neighbor Jeff Litvin's house. Litvin, 54, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993 and often has to use a wheelchair toward the end of the day when fatigue sets in and his symptoms worsen.

With his wife, Donna, working 40 to 50 hours a week and acting as Litvin's prime caregiver, yard work gets put on the back burner. Weeds, underbrush, blackberries and unruly limbs were all cut back to size on Saturday by a large team of helpers.

The Rotary Club of West Linn was also on hand at Litvin's house. Members constructed a sidewalk connecting the back door to the couple's driveway. Last year, the organization put in a temporary gravel path to help Litvin navigate the backyard, but he often got stuck when it was raining.

'I won't be getting stuck anymore,' Litvin said. 'I will be more independent.'

Rotary Club member Danny Crossman said Neighbors Helping Neighbors is one of the club's service projects.

'It's a good way to connect to the city,' he said.

At times, the flurry of activity and caring got to Litvin.

'It was a bit emotional for me. I cannot begin to say how grateful we are.

'It's priceless,' he continued. 'It's better than winning the lottery. I cried Saturday night.'

Saladino said the city did a lot of outreach this year trying to connect with homeowners who could use a helping hand, but she said several turned the offer down.

'There are so many humble and grateful people,' she said. 'They don't take it unless they really need it.'

Monday morning, Saladino said she was already flooded with thank you calls and emails from both volunteers and homeowners.

Saladino said many of the homeowners showered volunteers with baked goods like zucchini bread, cookies, cake and homemade pizza.

'That was just lovely,' she said.

Another recipient of hard workers this year was 85-year-old Jeanne Jones.

About five to eight neighbors cut back the shrubs and removed weeds on her large lot, which she said, 'tends to get away from me.'

She added, 'I was delighted they were going to do it again this year. To me, it was a lifesaver.'

Jones said she is on a limited budget and, if she had to hire someone to do the yard work, she would have to go without in some other area.

A lot of the real work comes in coordinating the day. Using a mapping system, coordinators plot volunteers so they work in their own neighborhoods or work at the same home they worked at last year.

'All these really great bonds are being formed,' Saladino said. 'The idea is you really are helping your neighbor.'

The feeling is contagious. As a recipient, Litvin said he wants to get involved in the process of helping the event continue and grow.

'Everything came in full circle,' he said. 'It made us realize what a wonderful city we live in.'

Neighbors Helping Neighbors was started in Lake Oswego a few years ago by Dawn D'Haeze. She said she came up with the notion after making multiple trips to California to help her mother and grandmother.

'I think everyone deserves a helping hand,' D'Haeze said. 'I just hope that people keep the spirit of helping without thought, without judgment.'

Last year, 130 cubic yards of debris were removed during the last Neighbors Helping Neighbors. On Saturday, 243 cubic yards of lawn debris was disposed of.

West Linn Refuse and Recycling donates trucks, drivers, bins, fuel and equipment to the cause.

'It honestly blows my mind,' Saladino said. 'It's really, really amazing the contribution they make.'

Saladino said the city is going to look into making the event twice a year instead of once.