Volunteers gear up to serve seniors with yard cleanup

Published 10:35 am Thursday, September 13, 2018

As the temperature continues to get colder and colder, leaves will begin to change to various shades of red, orange and yellow. Backroads throughout the state of Michigan will turn picturesque as a collage of colorful trees runs alongside the pavement.

But eventually, those leaves will fall, covering people’s homes and yards. Someone has to pick those up, but not every homeowner has the ability to do it, especially some southwest Michigan senior citizens.

“If you have leaves that pile up and then they hold the groundwater and it starts to mold and kill the grass,” said Julee Laurent-Clancy, the volunteer engagement manager with United Way of Southwest Michigan. “If the gutters don’t get cleaned out, rainwater backs up and then the ice freezes on the gutters and can tear them off the side of the home. It can cause real monetary damage to someone who is already on a fixed income.”

To combat this issue for southwest Michigan senior citizens, for the past eight years the United Way of Southwest Michigan has organized Rake a Difference: A Day of Action for Seniors. For this event, United Way mobilizes between 700 and 800 volunteers to do yard ward for senior citizens throughout Berrien and Cass counties.

This year, Rake a Difference will be on Thursday, Nov. 8. Volunteers will do a variety of jobs from raking leaves to cleaning gutters.

Last year, more than 230 senior citizens were helped.

“They always write us letters thanking us because this is work they can’t do,” Laurent-Clancy said. “We can deliver meals and we can help with utilities and certain, but this is true work that they cannot do themselves and they are so appreciative. I can not tell you how many letters we get after the fact from seniors who are just really happy.”

To attract volunteers, the United Way of Southwest Michigan partners with a variety of business within both counties. These businesses provide employees to do the work and help spread the word.

“The more volunteers we get the more seniors we can help,” Laurent-Clancy said. “So we put it on Facebook, we put it on Twitter. We email everyone. We send all the past volunteers, and I honestly already have almost 200 people who have signed up and it’s everywhere.”

According to Laurent-Clancy, more than 40 area senior citizens have already signed up to have their yards raked and gutters cleaned.

She said that one of the least desired jobs is cleaning gutters, so to help make that job easier this year the United Way of Southwest Michigan is purchasing Gutter Wands.

“It’s always hard to find teams to do gutters because not a lot of people want to do gutters,” she said. “But this year we’re encouraging people to sign up because we’re getting gutter wands. You attach them to a hose and the [mechanism] sprays all of the leaves to one area. One person just has to jump up on a ladder once and grab the leaves.”

Businesses and individuals interested in signing up can do so by visiting uwsm.org/rakeadifference by Oct. 12.