As Arlene and Allen House have advanced in years, keeping up with the maintenance around their Coupeville home has grown increasingly challenging.
Both are in their 70s and more limited after Allen suffered a brain injury in a motorcycle accident in 2004. Then tasks became even harder following’s Allen’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis last spring.
Without an enormous showing of support from neighbors and some new friends from the community, Arlene House, who goes by “Are,” isn’t sure what they would’ve done.
One particular group known as Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers has arrived at the House’s home each spring for the past several years, tackling significant projects around their house and yard.
Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers is a volunteer group made up largely of building professionals from the community who donate their services and skills for one day a year to those who need them most.
“They’ve become friends to us,” Are House said. “They are life savers. They’ve allowed us to stay in our home.”
“Neighbors helping Neighbors” is the slogan Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers operates by.
The nonprofit group started in 2009 with a one-day work blitz on the first Saturday of May each year.
Last year, more than 100 volunteers worked on 22 projects.
This year’s event is May 6. The group is trying to line up projects and is asking those who need help to send in their applications by Jan. 31.
The group serves Central Whidbey within the boundaries of the Coupeville School District.
It targets homeowners who are either physically or financially unable to do the home repairs or tasks themselves.
“We are always looking for projects,” said Wilson Binger, board president of Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers. “One thing I’d like to stress is it seems in this society that we live in that it’s extremely hard to ask for help. It’s much easier to volunteer to help. Those of us who volunteer to help can’t help if we don’t know anybody who needs help. It’s a wonderful thing for people who have a need to ask volunteers who are willing to help. It’s more than one half of the equation in developing a sense of community and neighbors helping neighbors.”
The projects range from repairing siding to pressure-washing sidewalks to hauling away debris. The group re-tiles floors, fixes leaky roofs, builds decks, landscapes, paints, does plumbing, electrical work and more.
A group in South Whidbey began the Hearts &Hammers movement, followed by Central Whidbey. There have been discussions about starting a group that serves North Whidbey but it hasn’t gained much traction.
At the House home, the group replaced a roof over the garage, which also serves as a classroom for Are, who’s a life coach and tutor. They even installed a new garage door, re-tiled bathroom floors and replaced an outdoor bannister.
“People here are kind and generous,” Are House said.
Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers doesn’t charge homeowners for their work and instead relies on the community for donations.
The group is holding its annual community dinner, sponsored by Front Street Realty, at 5:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27 at the Coupeville Rec Hall. The suggested donation for dinner is $5. SPIN Cafe is preparing the meal.
The Houses moved into their home on Marine Drive 18 years ago and loved to go out in the garden to take care of their property.
Over time, projects started to mount and tasks around the house became harder to keep up with after Allen House’s accident.
Neighbors began helping immediately, Are House said, adding that gift cards started showing up at their house and people started taking care of their yard.
“People dove in who barely knew us,” she said. “People here are kind and generous.”
Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers volunteers started arriving each year to help with some of the more complex tasks.
“They are pleasant when the come. It’s not like it’s a chore,” Are House said.
House motioned to a hole in the ceiling of her kitchen where a leak has caused some damage but said she doesn’t know if she will ask for help again this year, leaving more opportunities for others in the community. She said she and her husband are so grateful for all that Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers have done.
“You do realize as you age, there are things — even when you’re in good shape — you can’t do anymore,” Are House said.
The flip side, in the case of Are and Allen House, is they were introduced to new friends.
“There are some things good about getting older,” Are said. “It’s not so bad.”
n HOW TO APPLY: To submit a workday application for May 6, fill out the form on the Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers website at www.cwheartsandham mers.org and hit “submit.” One may also request a form by mail by emailing the group at cwheartsandham firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 360-720-2114.
n HOW TO DONATE: Those interested in making a donation to Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers may do so on the group’s website or by mailing them to: Central Whidbey Hearts &Hammers, 7 South Main Street, Suite B, Coupeville, WA 98239. The group also welcomes new volunteers.