Congratulations to Avon Lake's Jan VanWagner for being selected as a Huffington Post "Greatest Person."
One of Jan VanWagner’s friends was trying to rent out her property in Avon Lake when she told VanWagner she had a pretty big problem: The property next to her rental was a mess.
“The house next door to her was in shambles,” VanWagner recalled. “She asked me, ‘How can I rent the property with this eyesore next door?'"
VanWagner contacted Avon Lake zoning administrator Ruth Booher, who enforces the city's maintenance laws, to see what could be done to help her friend. She learned that while the city had a process in place to handle such situations, the outcome was not always in anyone's best interest.
“We write a letter notifying the home owner work is needed, then send another letter if the work isn't completed," Booher said. "Then, if the problem isn't corrected, it goes to the courts.” Homeowners could ultimately face a citation and fine. Booher relayed the information to VanWagner who began wondering what happened to people after they got fined by the courts and couldn't afford to correct the problems.
“They had no place to call for assistance,” VanWagner said. “They couldn’t afford to pay the fines or repairs.”
It was then the septagenarian, one of Avon Lake’s most active volunteers decided to once again step up and help her fellow community members. She kept coming back to the fact that there were homeowners in need of repair that may want to keep up their homes, but could not afford—or be capable—of doing the work.
So it was no surprise to friends when VanWagner founded the non-profit “Helping Hands” program to assist Avon Lakers who were physically or financially unable to maintain their homes. The program goes beyond helping those brought to the attention of the court.
“We started it two years ago because there were people who needed things done around their yards and they couldn’t afford it,” VanWagner said.
And with that, Helping Hands was born. The concept is simple: The service provides no-cost home and yard work for people who are physically or financially unable to tend to their property. All one has to do is make a phone call to VanWagner or reach out to .
The well-connected VanWagner has found a community willing to lend support to keep the service going.
She took the idea to councilman Marty O’Donnell and ministers, priests and church leaders of Avon Lake. Through their help, they recruited volunteers and received generous donations from Home Depot and other local companies who supplied them with the tools needed to do to carry out this work.
“We’ve found volunteers through the Key Club, individuals who want to help and Scouting organizations,” she said. In fact, she said those willing to help out often outnumber those in need.
Jim Moyse, the secretary of Helping Hands said the service has already provided innumerable hours of service including gardening, mowing grass, and snow removal. The organization has gone as far as building a wheelchair ramp on an Avon Lake home.
VanWagner finds Helping Hands not only helps those in need, but those providing the help.
“It’s personal satisfaction of doing things we know need to be done,” she said.
She hopes to expand Helping Hands’ services soon. VanWagner is in the process of organizing a service that will allow community members to sign up to receive a daily call.
“We’re branching out into developing a calling service to make sure they are OK,” VanWagner said. “It will be part of Helping Hands. It’s just another way to make sure those who need help in Avon Lake are receiving it.”