Yard cleanup gets Facebook boost

Family's struggles become cause on social media

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter


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What: Yard cleanup.

When: 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Where: Fourth Plain Village neighborhood, near Grand Boulevard.

Information: To learn more about the yard cleanup event, including the home address, join the event's Facebook group, www.facebook.com/groups/520582071380060, or email Melissa Simmons, lillsmom2005@yahoo.com.

What: Yard cleanup.

When: 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Where: Fourth Plain Village neighborhood, near Grand Boulevard.

Information: To learn more about the yard cleanup event, including the home address, join the event’s Facebook group, www.facebook.com/groups/520582071380060, or email Melissa Simmons, lillsmom2005@yahoo.com.

The beige house in the Fourth Plain Village neighborhood where Melissa Simmons grew up is unidentifiable from the street.

The 1,300-square-foot house is hidden by overgrown ivy and out-of-control blackberry bushes. The vines have crawled up the side of the house and surround its detached garage. The brush — waist- to chest-high in most places — has all but swallowed the quarter-acre residential lot over the past 1½ years.

“I’m mortified, honest to God,” Simmons said.

But maintaining the large corner lot was put on the back burner last year when her parents, who have lived in the house for more than 30 years, were facing health issues. And now, Simmons and her family face the daunting task of regaining control of the property.

Luckily for them, a group of strangers united only by a Facebook page are stepping up to help.

“I didn’t realize there was people who would help me,” Simmons said. “Complete strangers, that’s what blows me away.”

Health problems

About 1½ years ago, Simmons’ mother, Robbin Walsh, 55, learned her health was in jeopardy. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Walsh wasn’t able to afford her diabetes medication. It wasn’t covered by her insurance, and as the only one working in the home, she was struggling to provide for herself and her disabled husband.

Her diabetes got out of control, and she developed neuropathy. The neuropathy went undiagnosed for some time, until she developed blood clots in her leg. Walsh’s leg had to be amputated. Three months later, her other leg needed to be amputated.

She was later diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She underwent surgery but couldn’t receive chemotherapy treatment due to her other health issues. Walsh is now rehabilitating in a skilled nursing facility.

“It’s been a really rough year and a half,” Simmons said.

Walsh had always been the one to maintain the property. Simmons’s father, who is 72, is disabled and suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He requires supplemental oxygen at all times and physically can’t maintain the property.

Simmons’s 24-year-old brother lives at the home with their dad. But he works two jobs — a daytime shift and a graveyard shift — coaches Little League and takes care of household chores and his father’s daily needs.

Simmons is going to school and raising her three children. Her husband works full time.

For the last 1½ years, Simmons and her family have devoted all of their spare time and energy to helping Walsh get better. Now that her health has improved, the family is shifting its focus back to the property.

The cleanup

The city of Vancouver sent the Walshes a letter advising them the property needed to be cleaned up as soon as possible. A city arborist told them the 150-foot Douglas fir on the corner of the lot was dying and strongly recommended they remove it, Simmons said.

The state of the yard also led the Walsh family’s insurance company to cancel their homeowner’s policy.

Overwhelmed by the current state of the yard and fearing fines from the city, Simmons began searching for programs that offer disabled residents financial or physical help in these situations.

“There’s just no help,” she said. “It’s really disheartening.”

Simmons vented her frustrations to her friend, Amanda Lindsay. Lindsay suggested asking people on the popular Facebook page, Vancouver Area Free Market, for advice. The page, which has more than 9,600 “likes,” is a place where people offer and search for free goods and advice.

Lindsay posted on the page on Simmons’s behalf, asking people for advice. Instead, she got dozens of strangers volunteering to help clean up the yard. They created a separate Facebook group for the cleanup effort. More than 60 people have joined.

“I was really shocked at how many people were willing to help,” Simmons said. “I still can’t believe it.”

They’ve scheduled a yard cleanup event for this weekend. But a handful of people didn’t wait for the work party to get started.

Mike La Follette of Vancouver had some time off and volunteered to start clearing debris last week. He spent several hours clearing the driveway and sidewalk west of the house.

He had never met Simmons or her parents, but he was compelled to help when he saw the Facebook post.

“I just couldn’t believe that other neighbors didn’t come in and volunteer to help before it got that bad,” La Follette, 41, said. “I was kind of shocked to see how bad it looked.”

A small group of family members and volunteers continued working on the property last weekend, clearing the sidewalk to the east of the house, removing garbage that had been dumped in the yard and uncovering the garage and patio.

Simmons expects they’ll be able to finish the work this weekend. People from the Facebook page also have offered to help maintain the yard once the big cleanup is done.

“The outpour of people wanting to help is amazing,” Simmons said.

“I don’t even know how to thank them,” she said.

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