Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Helping those in need rewarding

I dreaded getting up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, but I knew it would be worth it, not only for our readers but for personal reasons. As a young reporter in Dexter, I always enjoyed covering Christmas in April and I was looking forward to seeing how Christmas in Action generated that same community spirit in Saline and Milan. So, off I went for Milan to get to the Milan Area Fire Department by 8 a.m., where volunteers were being served breakfast before heading out to their job sites.

There I met Bob Grostick and Pam Palmieri, who talked to me about the various work to be done that day. Bob was leading a crew of seven to 10 volunteers at a home on North Street. They planned to prune trees, clean up trash on the property and help out in other ways. Bob estimated that if the 84-year-old homeowner had to pay for it herself, it would have cost her $2,500.

The first home I visited was on Anderson Street in Milan, where organizers would only identify the homeowner as “Carlos." He was getting a new bathroom, stove, washer, dryer and bed thanks to Christmas in Action. “It’s what he wanted to make his life better,” said Palmieri, organizer of the effort in Milan.

The homeowner, who friends said has been deaf since childhood and cannot speak, touched my heart as he helped volunteers haul away trash and do whatever he could to help those who were there to help him. Ross Gordon, the house captain for the job, said Carlos had many needs. Among them, he didn’t have a stove and was using only a microwave and George Forman grill to cook his food, which, Ross said, he got weekly from Compassion, a food bank run by Vineyard church in Milan. Palmieri said he didn’t have a bed and was sleeping on a couch.

I was touched by his story and felt compelled to share it with readers, who , I hoped would be inspired to help Christmas in Action after reading his story. The story is posted online and will be in the May 1 edition of The Saline Reporter and The Milan News-Leader. About 20 people were at his home Saturday, and Ross estimated that labor and materials would have cost Carlos $11,500 if it weren’t for the help from Christmas in Action. Carlos’ friend, Arbutus Bickerstaff, said he wouldn’t have been able to afford to hire someone to do the work since losing his job last fall. She said his father and brother have been helping him stay afloat financially for the last several months.

Bickerstaff said it best: "I think it reaches out to people in need of help," she said of Christmas in Action. "It lifts their spirits. It makes them realize there are still good, kind people out there who care about you.”

Indeed. I've seen the program flourish in other communities and put smiles on the faces of many people who were in need of a helping hand. In Dexter, every year, at least 200 volunteers would help spruce up a dozen homes or more. I was always touched by each homeowner's story and so grateful they were willing to share it so readers could understand their plight and importance of the help the program provided. This, in turn, often brought in more donations, from readers and local businesses, helping the program grow every year.

I was also touched that day by Ann and Don Esterbrook, who raised their family in Saline and spent much of their lives giving back to the community. On Saturday, it was their turn to receive help as 15 volunteers from Christmas in Action were at their home as part of the program that has promoted neighbors helping neighbors for the last 16 years in Saline and two years in Milan.

“It’s harder to receive than it is to give,” Ann Esterbrook told me as volunteers washed windows and spruced up her yard on State Road in Pittsfield Township. “It’s not very easy to think somebody has to do for you.”

Esterbrook, who had worked 30 years in food service, retiring from Saline schools in 1999, has health problems, as does her husband, Don. They have spent their retirement giving back to their church, St. Paul United Church of Christ in Saline, as well as St. Joseph Mercy Saline Hospital, and deserved the help, just as the others did.

And the homeowners who were referred to the program weren't the only ones who benefited today. The volunteers feel a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in helping others. “It’s just nice to help people who have been givers their whole lives,” said Christmas in Action volunteer Jack Winchester, who was serving as house captain at the Esterbrook home. Winchester, who has been a volunteer with the group since its inception, said he enjoys giving back to the community. “You can’t get any other feeling like this anywhere else,” he said.

If you haven't been part of this amazing organization as a volunteer, I urge you to support it financially or next year as a volunteer. For more information about the Saline group, visit the Web site

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Blogger Brian's Place said...

The ChristmasInAction Saline/Milan website is Thanks for all those that spent their labor of love to help those wonderful people of Saline and Milan.

April 28, 2008 at 10:08 PM  

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