By Andreas Yilma Register Citizen
NAUGATUCK — A program that pairs high school students with seniors and disabled residents who could use a hand cleaning up their yard is back up and running after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Naugatuck Elks Lodge 967 briefly began a yard cleanup program for senior citizens about a decade ago. Soon after, Michael Harte, a transition coordinator for the district and a special education coordinator at Naugatuck High School, began to work with the Naugatuck Elks Lodge 967 arranging for high school students to do yard work for seniors. Borough officials recently picked it up and continued the program in 2019 through the Parks and Recreation Department, according to Harte.
Jim Desmarais, Naugatuck Elks Lodge 967 secretary, said when the Elks started the program, it was to provide assistance to seniors who needed it. The program also offers seniors socialization, Desmarais added.
Harte said this program is all about serving members of the community who are in need.
“The borough of Naugatuck approached us to take this job over from the Elks and I knew I had a good group of students who are motivated and want to learn,” Harte said.
The Elks club and ION Bank have collectively donated about $10,000. The Elks club has also donated equipment, including the leaf blowers.
The high school students would sometimes do 15 homes in a season or go out to homes up to four times a week. The students would rake leaves, trim hedges, remove brush and clean gutters. Since Harte has been part of the program, students have helped clean around 50 houses, he said.
The students in the program are also involved in a career exploration program run by Harte.
There are about nine students that have currently signed up and about 20 students that are eligible, according to Harte.
”We have an opportunity to help elderly citizens or individuals with disabilities with yard cleaning, some tasks around the house that they’re not able to do,” Harte said. “It just makes my students understand the value of giving back to your community.”
Harte wants to go out to homes at least once a week and plans to go out with students to one or two more homes this season. There are many leaves on the trees so the number of homes might go up. Students will continue to go out to homes until the snow falls and then pick it back up in the spring, when the ground clears, Harte added.
Students feel good about helping their community.
Bradley Minchala, a junior, said it’s amazing to be outside in nature and help the community. He was grateful to help those in need, Minchala added.
Ashley Tufaro, a junior, said it’s a good program to go out and help people who can’t easily do yard work.
“Not looking how it’s going to help us but how it’s going help other people,” Tufaro said.
The school district pays the students a stipend. There aren’t any donations needed, Harte said.
Elizabeth Poudrier, 90, whose backyard on Nixon Avenue was partially cleaned of leaves on Thursday, said the program helps a great deal. She would’ve had to hire someone, which she can’t afford, she added.
“It’s also wonderful for the students,” Poudrier said. “They get exercise and fresh air. It’s good all around.”
Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said ION Bank, the Elks Club and the high school should be recognized for their continuing efforts to help community members in need.
“I want to teach students the value of hard work, the value of serving their community, not always looking how things are going to meet their needs but trying to reach out to meet other people’s needs because it’s important that we all take on some of the things that other people can’t do,” Harte said.
Anyone interested in participating in the program can contact Harte at 203-720-5655 or Harvey Frydman at the Naugatuck Senior Center.