There was pressure-washing, marathon style. There was the cutting back of overgrown trees and bushes, enough clippings to fill 75 industrial-sized bags. There were touch-ups and spruce-ups.
Just in time for lunch on Oct. 26, Oviedo’s Palm Valley retirement community had received a significant makeover.
And five distinct church congregations — including Oviedo United Methodist Church and University Carillon UMC — had bonded through fellowship and service.
As human beings, we tend to live in silos,’’ said Patina Ripkey, associate pastor of missional engagement at Oviedo UMC. “As churches, we also live in silos. We need to stop that. Look what happens when we get organized to come together and reach out to people who need our help.’’
It was about five hours on a warm Saturday. The churches sent about 140 volunteers to Palm Valley, which had already been mentally divided into five sections by the group leaders, who distributed equipment and gave instructions. Then the work began.
When the landscaping blitz was completed, 40 homes had been made practically brand new.
Many of modular and manufactured homes are owned by elderly residents, who were unable to perform basic landscaping duties or afford someone to do it for them. With Homeowners Association warnings often looming, it created a stressful situation.
“It wasn’t just one church, and it wasn’t just one religion — it was people helping people, and it was a beautiful thing,’’ 76-year-old Palm Valley resident Renna McGuire said. “None of us are getting any younger. We can’t climb on ladders and clean out the gutters. We struggle to take care of our yards.
“It was such a comfort for the homeowners to have this work get done. We are so grateful.’’
The work of Oviedo UMC and University Carillon UMC — along with the non-denominational River Run Church, Pursuit Church and Action Church from the Central Florida area — made a major impact.
Palm Valley received help from churches in previous years. Last year Oviedo UMC teamed with Home Depot to repair, paint and fix several of the community’s homes.
But this latest landscaping day was the biggest celebration of teamwork.
“It was very organized — praise God,’’ Ripkey said. “One thing I have learned. When you really want to mobilize a group and get your church to feel good about something, you start with things that are very organized and a good experience for them.
“To get people engaged, it needs to be organized. These are very busy people. We were so blessed with organization. Everyone knew their tasks so they were all happy to show up and serve Jesus.’’
Oviedo member Jim Ford worked closely with a team captain at River Run to stage the workday.
Ford’s chief takeaway?
“It was truly magnificent,’’ Ford said. “We had a plan. We did the work. So many of the homeowners were helped. And we were all blessed.
“It was great interacting with the members of other churches. Everyone was so willing to pitch in. I think it’s a great model for how we can do things moving forward. It was very powerful.’’
Ford said some of the homes hadn’t had landscaping work in nearly a decade. The before-and-after look of some homes was shocking (in a good way).
“It was significant work, I’ll tell you,’’ Ford said. “But everyone was so joyous at the outcome. It was all so worth the effort.’’
Carl Cline, another Oviedo member, said he believes the group’s work will resonate.
“It was a daunting task for all of us, but I don’t think you can put a price tag on the peace of mind that many of those homeowners now have,’’ Cline said. “They are older and simply aren't able to do what needs to be done. This will allow them to stay where they are living.
“You can buy a new car or a new home, and that probably feels really good. But that feeling wears off. The feeling you get by helping someone out, that lasts. When you help someone and know you changed their life, that feeling is always there. In fact, it makes you want to do more.’’
McGuire, a widow, has lived at Palm Valley for nearly two decades. She remembers 2004 when Hurricane Charley ravaged the community, and she has since served as an organizer and spokesperson.
“We have a lot of people who were in their 50s when they moved here, but time has changed some things,’’ McGuire said. “Maybe your spouse has died. The income is depleted, and you suddenly can’t live as comfortably as when you first moved in. Maybe there’s a health situation, and you can’t take care of the place like you used to.
“I’ve tried to be someone who represents the homeowners and tries to get things done on their behalf. We haven’t been shy about reaching out when we need some help. But we are truly overwhelmed at the work of these churches. I hope they know how meaningful it was for us. They have truly been a blessing.’’
--Joey Johnston is a freelance writer based in Tampa