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Volunteers spruce up yards for a disabled teacher and a pastor with PTSD

Old tires serve as planters in a retired school teacher's upgraded yard.
Old tires serve as planters in a retired school teacher's upgraded yard.
Photo courtesy Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado

Each spring, the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) members embark upon a Day of Service during which professional landscapers put their skills and their heavy equipment to work to improve the community by beautifying outdoor spaces. Below, Becky Garber, ALCC communications director, recounts the results of this year's ALCC Day of Service at three different Front Range sites.

Guest Post: Volunteers spruce up yard for retired teacher, stroke victim

By Becky Garber

Another day’s work? Not really!

“I wasn’t the only one who cried when Mr. Schneider came out of the house and walked into his garden,” admits one of the volunteers at the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado’s (ALCC) annual Day of Service held in late April. Then the guy standing next to her leaned over and whispered in her ear – “Hey, that’s why we do this.”

That emotional moment came at the end of a landscape renovation by ALCC’s Northern Chapter that allowed stroke victim Chuck Schneider to walk into his back yard and see the garden he loves for the first time since his stroke in 2011. New ramp access and a garden makeover restored a missing part of life for this retired Fort Collins school teacher.

This was one of three projects along the Front Range undertaken by the association in its sixth year of participating in the landscape industry’s National Day of Service projects.

In Woodland Park the reporter, covering the Southern Chapter’s renovations at Peak Church, asked one of the volunteers, “Aren’t all these guys you’re working with your competitors?” His answer was, “Well, I guess maybe we are. But today we’re all here to help Pastor Hellmer.”

Ken Hellmer, an Iraqi war vet who suffers from PTSD, volunteers his services as a pastor to the small church of about 30. Self-supported in his ministry by his own retirement, he gives to others in spite of his disabilities. Other area churches help him by providing taped sermons and it was one of their pastors who suggested Hellmer’s church could use some landscape help. When the day’s work was done, Pastor Ken had a smile and lots of thanks for the new patio and fire pit that will give young people in his flock a place to gather.

In the busiest time of year, a dozen Denver companies also broke people and equipment away from busy spring schedules to help Jewell Elementary School in Aurora deal with long-term landscape issues. Two self-admitted “office guys” from different firms admitted they wanted a day in the field. One of them said he barely knew anyone on the installation team and Day of Service gave him a chance to work side-by-side with another team member.

One team of the volunteers worked with Aurora Public Schools staff to remove 250 tons of pea gravel from the playground. Another team removed old sod and added a planting bed full of new and colorful perennials. Meanwhile, a third crew spent most of the day ripping out monstrous junipers and in their place, building a low block wall in front of the school’s main entrance. When the children showed up in the morning, they had to run around the overgrown plants – and at the end of the day, the new, low and child-friendly wall was ringed with little kids who were sitting on it while waiting for their parents to pick them up from school. Volunteers stood and smiled over what a difference one day makes.

“Day of Service is when our members look forward to giving back to the communities where they work – and helping individuals and organizations that don’t have the resources to improve the landscapes on their own,” says Kristen Fefes, ALCC’s executive director. “At the end of the day of hard work – and with big smiles – our volunteers say they’re walking away with more than they gave. They say that every single year and about every single project and that’s why they do this every year.”

About ALCC: As the trade association for landscape companies in Colorado, ALCC has members in six chapters statewide. For more than 50 years, ALCC has guided landscape professionals to address Colorado’s unique climate and to promote sustainable landscapes through responsible use of water and other natural resources. Community service has always been a high value within the association and among its individual members.

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