“To be honest with you, it was the answer to some prayers.”
That was Oxford Village resident Jan Acheson’s reaction to a group of Oxford High School students, staff and parents showing up unannounced on the doorstep of her Pontiac St. home Saturday and proceeding to do a whole bunch of yardwork, free of charge.
“I felt special,” Jan said. “I felt really honored.”
“Neither one of us could thank them enough,” added her husband, Keith Acheson. “They were so nice, so polite. It was great. In Oxford, we’ve still got a lot of great people, young and old.”
It was all part of a program dubbed Oxford Gives Back.
More than 320 student volunteers from OHS, plus staff members and parents, spent the weekend engaging in spring clean-up chores at approximately 30 homes scattered throughout Oxford, Addison and Orion townships. All of the homeowners were senior citizens.
“It was amazing,” said OHS junior Jacinta Hogan, who spearheaded this new program. “It surpassed my expectations completely.”
The volunteers raked and bagged leaves, pulled weeds, spread mulch and wood chips, cleared dead wood and even did a little painting. All the work was done at no cost to the seniors.
“Once we were finished with some of the houses (that had signed up for the program), we went to the neighbors,” Hogan said. “We knocked on some doors (of homes) that looked like they needed help.”
Hogan’s goal was to create a meaningful way for high school students to give back to the community that supports them and help forge connections between the older and younger generations.
“I’m honestly just so happy,” she said. “People really stepped up. I was blown away, personally, (by) the maturity of the high-schoolers that came out.”
Hogan said it was a “very emotional” day for her and many of the senior citizens.
“I ended up crying at several of the houses,” she said. “A lot of the elderly were sharing their stories and some of them started crying. It was very touching.”
One lady showed the students her button collection. Another lady talked about her husband who suffers from Huntington’s disease.
“It was very personal, which is what I really liked about it,” Hogan said.
The Acheson household wasn’t on the original list of homes in need of assistance, so the arrival of all these helping hands was a “total surprise,” as Jan put it.
“I was sitting on the porch (Saturday) when a bunch of them showed up across the street, then all of the sudden, they came over here,” said Keith, a lifelong Oxford resident and veteran of the Vietnam War.
It was a godsend for the Achesons because they’ve both been fighting cancer and undergoing treatments.
“There’s no way that we can get out and do (yardwork),” Keith said.
“I was really starting to feel down (about the way the yard looked),” said Jan, who worked for the U.S. Post Office for 33 years, 19 of which were spent at the Lake Orion branch.
Thanks to Oxford Gives Back, the Achesons can cross ‘spring clean-up’ off their to-do list and focus on their health.
“They did everything,” Keith said.
“What a blessing,” Jan said. “They were phenomenal. I couldn’t thank them enough.”
As for the cancer, Keith assured this reporter the outlook is good for both of them.
“We’re winning the battle,” he said.
Cathy Dine, a 36-year resident of Oxford Village, didn’t hesitate to sign up for the spring clean-up.
“When I saw the (Feb. 10) article in the Leader (seeking homes), I was like, ‘This is a great idea. They can get a lot more done than I can,’” she said.
Dine had a big smile on her face as the volunteers tackled a laundry list of chores at her Park St. home. She said they accomplished in a matter of hours “what would take me a whole year to do.”
“I am really grateful and frankly, I was a little bit surprised because you don’t read a lot of good things about kids,” Dine said. “I just really appreciate them coming out, the students and the teachers. It’s a great thing.”
Lifelong Oxford resident Evelyn Griffin, 86, was ecstatic about the job the volunteers did at her Mechanic St. home, where she’s lived with her husband Gerald since 1953.
“There were a lot of them and they did a wonderful job,” she said. “They were here for two hours – picked up all the sticks and all the leaves, cleaned out all the gardens. They haven’t looked this good in years. I weed them, but not this good. They pulled some weeds that I wouldn’t have even pulled because they were so tiny.”
“I think this is really nice,” said Oxford resident Marilyn Benner, who welcomed the volunteers to her N. Glaspie St. home. “I’ve had kids say to me, ‘Thank you for letting me come and do this.’ I can’t believe it.”
Benner, a 1962 OHS graduate, has been working for the school district for 38 years. Although she officially retired in 2003, she continues to work part-time as a secretary at the high school.
She was extremely impressed by everyone involved in Oxford Gives Back.
“They’re willing to help and they take pride in what they’re doing,” Benner said. “Some of them have been really good workers out here . . . I think it makes them feel good knowing that they’re helping (others), and I think the community really appreciates it.”
The program restored some of Oxford Township senior Terry Chidester’s faith in humanity.
“In this crazy world of negativity, it was heartwarming to see so many teens volunteering and giving of themselves without the promise of anything (in return, except for) the satisfaction of a job well done,” she wrote in a letter dropped off at the Leader.
Terry and her husband of nearly 48 years, Jerry, are both disabled and “can’t do all we’d like to” in the yard, so they appreciated all the volunteers’ hard work around their home on Seymour Lake Rd. They’ve lived there more than 20 years.
“I’m so blessed to live in the loving town of Oxford where people still care for each other,” she wrote.
At Windstar Farm on W. Oakwood Rd. in Oxford Township, the volunteers not only worked their tails off, they also took it upon themselves to properly remove a weathered American flag and replace it with a new one.
“Oxford is a small community with many motivated individuals who care about their neighbors,” wrote the farm’s owners, Mark and Beth Harries, who have lived here for 32 years. “They are willing to step up and make a difference. This reminds us every day that we made a wise choice when we came to Oxford.”
“I think (this spring clean-up) a wonderful idea. There’s a lot of seniors who can’t do this stuff very well,” said Larry Oshier, an Addison Township resident who owns a house on Dennison St. in Oxford Village. He and his wife are planning to move there.
Oshier was undergoing physical therapy at HealthQuest when he saw information about Oxford Gives Back and signed up.
The volunteers spent part of Sunday laboring in his Dennison St. yard. “They’ve only been here for an hour-and-a-half or so and they got everything done. They’ve done great work,” Oshier said.
He estimated it would have taken him “10 hours, maybe longer” to do the entire job.
“I hurt my back last year and couldn’t do much of anything,” Oshier explained.
Thanks to physical therapy, his back is in “a lot better” shape these days, but he feared working hard in the yard could have led to a setback.
“Doing all this would have really done me in,” he said. “I would have been doing it real slow, trying not to hurt my back.”
He’s grateful to Oxford Gives Back for getting the job done and helping to preserve his health.
Oshier is a private practice psychologist with 40 years experience. He works with a lot of young people at the Crittenton Medical Plaza in downtown Oxford and believes they often “get a bad rap.”
“But I don’t think that’s indicative of most of them,” he said. “I think most of them are like this. They’re nice kids. They have good motives. They try hard.”
To Jan Acheson, the reason Oxford youth are “very polite” and “very sweet” is because they’re being raised right at home.
“Oxford parents really care about what their kids are doing,” she said.
Hogan is committed to making Oxford Gives Back “bigger and better” next year and turning it into an annual thing “for years to come.”
“We’re actually going to put together a committee with some staff and students, and keep it going,” she said.
OHS art teacher Becky Ziemianski loved the experience and can’t wait to participate in this program again. “I would do it in a heartbeat every weekend because the folks were so grateful,” she said.