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United Way initiative lends hand to elderly


Yolanda Holley

Yolanda Holley



India Yarborough



Yolanda Holley lives with her dog in the same house she has inhabited since 1978, 10 years after her family moved to Columbus when she was 12. 


"It's an old house," she said. "I'm worried about things breaking down." 


The Columbus resident of almost 50 years reached out to the United Way of Lowndes County last month after a friend suggested the nonprofit organization might help Holley with work around the house. Holley said she specifically asked United Way to help find someone to mow her overgrown lawn. 


"My lawnmower isn't working well," Holley said. "I used to do it myself, but I've got arthritis." 


Renee Sanders, United Way volunteer director, said Holley hasn't been the only elderly citizen of Columbus to contact her about yard work. 


Another lady, 83, also requested such help, Sanders said, because her lawnmower is also broken and her grown children aren't always available to help. If she could fix her mower, the lady told Sanders, she'd mow herself. 


"Now at 83, why would you need to mow your own yard?" Sanders said. "I saw me sitting on a sofa 30, 40-plus years from now asking the exact same question. You know, if I'm left on this earth without my spouse and without any children, then who does fill in the gap?" 




A bright idea 


According to Sanders, she finds many senior citizens unable to complete seemingly ordinary tasks around their homes, such as mowing their lawns, changing light bulbs or cleaning gutters. She hopes to create a volunteer team through United Way to address those needs. 


Sanders said senior citizen homeowners often feel attached and do not want to move to retirement homes. Her volunteer team could help them retain some independence. 


"We could call it our senior citizens initiative," Sanders said. "I think it should include anyone who has a passion and a heart to give back to the community, so any of our local church groups, Boy Scouts, sororities and fraternities that are willing to collaborate with me and maybe do a rotation." 


While she notes the project is still in its early stages, Sanders plans to gather a list of citizens who need assistance and send them volunteers to help with projects and lawn care during summer months. 


Sanders posted about the idea on Facebook and has already received offers for both money and hands-on help to get the project off the ground. 


Alvis Warren and Kelvin Styron are two lawn care specialists already working with Sanders. 


"United Way happened to call me," said Warren, who cut Holley's yard. "I went over to get a quote on the yard and got to talking with her and learned she has arthritis. I just like to help people out when they're in need. God puts you in certain places at certain times and you've got to take advantage of every opportunity he puts before you." 


Because Holley is retired and lives on a fixed income, Warren agreed to cut her lawn for a discounted price. 


"I've seen how United Way works, and if they contact me, I know it's for someone who truly needs help," Warren said. "It's not just a hand out." 


Styron, who founded a sober living home to assist men reentering society after prison, has worked with United Way before. Now, he plans on mowing the 83-year-old lady's yard for free. 


"I think anything I can do to help out, I'm going to be willing to do it," Styron said. "We're going to see how this first one goes, but we're happy to do it." 




Volunteer retention 


Sanders said bringing in professionals like Styron and Warren is an important first step, but it can't be the last. 


"That is their business, and I don't want to take food from their table. So once they get it started, we want younger people to step up," Sanders said. 


United Way serves 400 nonprofit organizations in Lowndes County, as well as 195 in Monroe County and 77 in Noxubee County. 


"That means any agency can call me up and say 'Renee, we're planning an event, and we need your help recruiting volunteers to pull this event off,'" Sanders said. "I like to deal with young people ages 5 to 25, and I have this philosophy: If I can get a 5-year-old to volunteer and enjoy doing what he's doing, when he turns 25, that should not be a problem." 


Sanders said once a person volunteers, it becomes easy for them to help again and again. 


"Once you realize that there are so many ways to get involved, once you start with one project, then it's so easy to get involved in something else new," Sanders said. "Then you can stop worrying about yourself when you see that your problems are so minor compared to others."




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