Willa Natarajan, 66, didn’t know what to do. She’d received several letters from the city’s code enforcement office advising her to clean up her property.
“Yes, my yard is a mess,” she said. “My metal barn caved in last year. I had a Great Pyrenees – he’d take things like stuffed animals out in the yard.” But, she added, “I’ve been disabled for 32 years. I’ve got arthritis from my jaw to my toes.” Several additional ailments coupled with a lack of financial resources overwhelmed her. She sighed and shook her head. “I just don’t have any extra money.”
Enter Dave Griswold, chairman of the Hillyard Neighborhood Council. He said, “I was contacted by the office of Neighborhood Services. They asked if we could help.” The council had some funds set aside to help with yard cleanup. After driving to her home and assessing the situation, Griswold gave Natarajan a call.
Their conversation got off to a rough start. Natarajan had grown frustrated by her inability to find help. She recalled their initial visit this way. “I got a call from Dave Griswold. He said, ‘I saw your yard and it’s a mess.’ ” Thinking it was yet another complaint, the feisty senior replied, “Look, fella, I just had a fourth surgery on my foot – the next step is to lose my foot. I can’t do anything!”
Griswold hastened to assure her that he only wanted to help. He liked Natarajan’s spunk. “She’s a darling lady with very good attitude,” he said.
He contacted Aaron Winger, owner of Winger Contracting, a Hillyard-based landscape company, and asked for their help. On Dec. 29, Winger and his crew got busy. They had quite a task before them.
The juxtaposition of junk that spread out before them seemed almost poetic. Near the back door, a single ice skate lay alongside a blue flip-flop. A broken baby bassinette teetered next to some kitchen chairs.
And then there was the carpet. Pink carpet. Blue carpet. Tree roots bulged from beneath the multicolored layers. Natarajan said it had seemed like a good idea at the time. “I put the carpeting down because it helps keep the weeds out and the water in,” she explained. “I had an English scatter-garden.” Holes had been cut in the fabric to allow shrubs and flowers to blossom. But as her health issues worsened, it became too much for her to manage.
“We removed four layers of carpet from the backyard,” Winger said. Their efforts were hampered when they discovered the first layer of carpeting had been wired to the fence. It took an hour just to free it. Using a mini-excavator they scooped and hauled debris for six hours. “We got everything stuffed into a 30-yard Dumpster,” he said.
Later that afternoon, Natarajan said, “They did a good job!” She was especially pleased that they’d been able to spare a few of her plants.
For Griswold and the neighborhood council it just made sense to look out for those in need of assistance. “It turns Hillyard into a better looking community,” he said.
Winger and his crew expressed satisfaction as well. He said, “We’re glad we were able to help her out.”