Helping neighbours with a smile
Garth Prothero and Patrick Byron are jockeying for the chance to cut the last strip of long grass in a yard on Patterson Avenue. It's a nice problem for their supervisor, Jackie Zhuang, to have.
He says a few encouraging words to his charges to smooth things over and each will get an opportunity to push the mower.
Enthusiasm has never been a question for Zhuang's squad, which is comprised of adults with developmental disabilities from L'Arche Greater Vancouver. They're Neighbours Helping Neighbours, a service that provides lawn and garden maintenance, household chores like garbage and snow removal and light carpentry to seniors and others with physical disabilities in Burnaby, New Westminster and East Vancouver. They also help out with Meals on Wheels and serve coffee at the food bank at Southside Community Church in the Edmonds area.
Each member of the team is trained to operate machinery like a lawn mower, weed whacker and hedge trimmer, as well as Food Safe practices. They're meticulous about wearing the proper safety equipment, gloves, safety glasses and steel-toed boots.
When they go out on calls in their specially marked extended cab pickup, they're accompanied by Zhuang, who is the program's coordinator, and a community volunteer.
The free program started in January 2008. Last year it helped 65 clients with more than 575 hours of work. They also put in 135 volunteer hours at community organizations.
It's a perfect match with L'Arche's mission to build relationships in the community with developmentally disabled adults, says Denise Haskett, L'Arche's executive director.
"They have a real sense of contributing to the larger community."
Maggie Marquardt has seen first hand the value of Neighbours Helping Neighbours. An outreach worker with South Burnaby Neighbourhood House, she enlisted the program three years ago to set up a coffee service for people lined up for the food bank at Southside Community Church.
The team from L'Arche makes their own coffee, in three big Thermos dispensers, and transports a hodge-podge collection of mugs they've acquired from thrift stores in a green plastic milk crate. Their arrival is greeted with smiles in the long line that curls around the church.
"They're so sweet, and they're very welcoming," says Marquardt of the morning's coffee crew. "It's an image of hospitality for people in a difficult situation."
The 40-minute stop at the food bank empties the coffee dispensers and all the mugs are dutifully returned, with much gratitude, to the plastic bin.
After loading their equipment in the back of the pick-up, the Neighbours Helping Neighbours are off to New West, where they'll help load meal trays into cars for distribution by Meals on Wheels, then back to Burnaby to help a senior with her garbage.
In the afternoon, they load up the heavy lawn care equipment, lace up their safety boots and head for another regular customer.
The variety of the work keeps everybody engaged and enthusiastic, says Zhuang. And, most importantly, smiling.
For more information about Neighbours Helping Neighbours, contact Peter McKinley at 604-435-9544 ext. 29