Kelly Van Liere
It’s 7:00 a.m. and the volunteers are ready to work; one has even started pulling weeds in the front yard. But a few unanswered knocks on the door make the crew rethink their timing. This home belongs to an elderly lady who heard about Tempe Neighbors Helping Neighbors (TNHN) through a friend. A few minutes later, that same friend arrives and informs the group leader that the side gate is unlocked. Volunteers grab their rakes, ladders, and bags and make their way to the backyard. Everyone somehow knows their task and immediately starts removing the accrual of pine needles from the yard and rain gutters.
Beads of sweat are already running their course down my back and I’m even standing in the shade. The heat is not even a topic discussed among the volunteers. Instead, there is an unmistakable feeling of camaraderie as the group continues raking and removing the pine needles. There is also laughter, and lots of it.
The group finishes the job in less than two hours and gathers for a quick photo. Some volunteers leave right away to continue with their weekend plans while others stay a little longer, conversing with each other and the resident. TNHN promotes these conversations as a way to build relationships between the volunteers and members, in addition to supplying information to management on how they can better serve the member. These conversations are also how the organization came into existence.
In 2009, there was a group of friends who wanted to make a difference in their community. They noticed that some of their neighbors needed help taking care of their front yards and lawns. So they went to work. Due to privacy regulations, the Tempe City Council stepped in and provided a framework that would benefit everyone involved. In 2012, the Maricopa Association of Governments awarded the group with a grant to become part of the Village to Village Network.
The Village to Village network brings people together by providing an avenue for people to take care of other people. A village not only connects people within their community, but it also helps the aging population stay healthier, live longer in their homes, and reduce expenses for the resident.
“Our typical member is a 70-year-old woman who lives alone and has no family in the area,” says Nancy Puffer, executive director for TNHN. The elderly and disabled benefit the most from TNHN’s services; however, membership is open to any Tempe resident and scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the membership fee.
In addition to yard work, TNHN offers transportation services, light home maintenance, technology assistance, social visits, and pet care. These services do not replace home health care but aim to help members live comfortably in their own home and alleviate loneliness.
A group of friends noticed that some of their neighbors needed help taking care of their front yards and lawns. So they went to work.
There are currently 114 members benefiting from TNHN’s services and five to 10 members joining each month.
With the continual increase in growth, there is increasing demand for Tempe Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Volunteers within the organization have donated 6,200 hours of service in the past year. There are around 50 volunteers contributing on a regular basis, each having their own motivations and inspirations for doing so.
One volunteer is a retiree who has always had a passion for helping the elderly. Another volunteer is particularly drawn to how he can donate his time and see the results. For me, I simply enjoy meeting new people and hearing their life stories.
Whatever it is that sparks your interest or gets you up out of bed in the morning to serve in the community, TNHN is glad to offer you the means to do so. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please visit the TNHN website and click on the Get Involved tab.
Photos by Kelly Van Liere