Cathie Estes lives alone. She’s 68 years old, is legally blind and is confined to a wheelchair.
Life isn’t easy for her. Everyday things, from getting a midnight snack to simply reading the day’s mail, are real challenges. More difficult chores, like cleaning her home’s gutters?
Yet, Estes likely has some of the cleanest gutters on the block. Her house has a fresh coat of paint, she has a new toilet and the thick carpet that once made getting around in her wheelchair a regular nightmare has been replaced by smooth floors.
Even the pesky closet door that refused to stay on its track has been fixed. But, perhaps most impressive of all, everything was done for free, or rather, for nothing more than the cost of friendship.
“It brings tears to my eyes and gets me all choked up just thinking about it,” Estes said.
Estes is one of many residents whose lives have been made a little bit easier by Central Whidbey Hearts and Hammers, an all-volunteer organization made up solely of people within the community – friends, colleagues and neighbors.
It was established five years ago as an off-shoot of its sister organization in South Whidbey, which was founded in 1994. It was the first Hearts and Hammers in the United States.
Today, the nonprofit and its service model have spread to four other states across the country, including Dallas; Pittsburgh; the Twin Cities in Minnesota; and Willowick, Ohio.
The idea behind the nonprofit, with it’s motto of “Neighbors helping Neighbors,” was to help people in the community who are unable, for one reason or another, to complete small home projects, said Bill Skubi, a member of Central Whidbey’s board of directors and the organization’s informal spokesman.
“People say, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have Christmas all year long,” Skubi said. “Well, this is kind of Christmas in May.”
The model shouldn’t be mistaken as being focused solely on assisting the very poor. Hearts and Hammers considers helping anyone who is struggling, whether it be with finances, physical handicaps, old age or all of the above.
People may simply be having a rough year and need a little help getting things done, Skubi said.
“We have had people who were volunteers one year and recipients another,” he said.
Last year, more than 100 volunteers assisted 22 homeowners, repairing roofs and decks, building wheelchair ramps, painting, doing yard work and pitching in where ever they could.
“It has a real barn-raising feel to it,” Skubi said.
In fact, the whole idea is for the Hearts and Hammers spirit to strengthen neighbors while building neighborhoods of shared responsibility.
All the work is done on the first Saturday in May. Group members are hoping to do more than ever and will be accepting project applications until Jan. 31.
To qualify, applicants must own their homes within the Coupeville School District and be unable to physically or financially manage the work on their own. Projects should be health and safety related and be able to be completed in a single day.
To apply, call 360-333-6654, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.centralwhidbeyheartsandhammers.com.
Estes said she’s extremely grateful to the organization and shows her appreciation with a little free advertising. Last year, she decorated the back of her wheelchair with a Hearts and Hammers sticker and jumps at the chance to tell people all about the group when they ask about it.
“There is never a day that I don’t go into my (house) and think of Hearts and Hammers,” she said.
“The whole outfit is truly a godsend for people like me who don’t have the resources to get this stuff done,” she said.