COLUMBIA — Dark clouds formed outside as 75-year-old Wanda Leach gathered her team of two, Darin Preis and Denise Christianson, into her burgundy Buick LeSaber at Oak Towers on North Garth Avenue and Sexton Road.
They took bright orange trash bags and rakes into her car and sat on the burgundy seats.
Leach drove her car into an alleyway behind her house, and her team — "Sally up your alley" — began to do their work, raking up leaves and tearing up weeds. Due to Leach's age, she was unable to do heavy-duty work at her house and required some assistance from volunteers who came for the "Love Where You Live" project.
"Love Where You Live" is a grassroots program that originated in Plano, Texas. It is designed to bring residents from lower-income neighborhoods and volunteers together to help neighbors with basic repairs and cleaning up of yards.
Leach's weeds would not go down without a fight, weaving through the metal fencing. Preis used a saw and began cutting through the weeds and the brush, Kelley Lucero, director of the project, came by with a hedge cutter and worked her way through the weeds.
"Oh no, I feel the pitter-patter of raindrops!" Christianson said while raking up the leaves.
"Oh boy, I don't know how much the rain will let us do," Leach said, taking out her 'weed eater.' "I haven't started it in awhile, hopefully it works."
Her weed-wacker was electric-powered, and extension cords connected to her shed snaked their way into the alley. She used the weed-wacker when the rain eased down to clear out trenches that run alongside the alley.
The raindrops were not the only hindrance of the morning; community leaders do not own cell phones, so communication was a problem as volunteers looked for leaders and leaders looked for volunteers.
"It is a good learning experience for the first time," Ridgeway resident, Donna Cooke said. "We learned that team leaders should have cell phones."
Even though organization was messy, the work managed to get done. Within a couple of hours, two alleys were almost cleaned, with brush being sawed down and trash filling up the orange bags.
Lucero was not done yet, she took two volunteers, Jamey Maneson and Brian Smith, to another alley near Grand and Forest avenues, not too far down Leach's home to survey its condition. She heard from Pat Kelly, president of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association, that it was the worst among the alleys.
Maneson admitted that he had never been to this part of the city.
"It is definitely a run down part of the neighborhood, " he said. "We are hoping to make it a little bit safer."
As the day went on, city trucks drove down the alleys to pick up the rest of the trash.
Lucero was glad that despite the rain, the volunteer turn out was good, with a total of 30 people.
"I didn't think we would get enough volunteers to do it," Lucero said. "But it fell into place this morning."
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