Three Arch Bay Comes Together in Kindness

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More than 50 residents offer support to ailing neighbor

 

Three Arch Bay residents bring reupholstered chairs to Tim’s home. Submitted photo

Nine years ago, Jake and Rene Hiemstra became residents of Three Arch Bay, and neighbors to 68-year-old Tim, who, blind and in a wheelchair, lived a private, solitary life and rarely left his house. 

As years passed, the Hiemstras slowly gained Tim’s trust, who was hesitant to ask for or accept help.

Besides the occasional “hi” and meal deliveries, the Hiemstras wanted to help Tim on an even deeper level, but offers were always shut down.

Rene Hiemstra and Arlene Merrill take a break from cleaning the inside of their neighbor’s home. Submitted photo

“We’d take him meals, and I’d ask him several times, ‘can I clean your home?’ The answer was always ‘no,’ because, of course, he was embarrassed,” Rene Hiemstra said.

Then recently, Tim was taken to the hospital after complications from diabetes. 

“I thought, ‘what the heck,’ I’ll ask him one more time,” Hiemstra said.

Which finally brought the “yes” answer she had hoped for. 

While Tim was in the hospital, Hiemstra began the monumental task of clearing out his house to start the cleaning process. Her work piqued the curiosity of other neighbors, and soon, most of the Three Arch Bay community was involved. 

“One by one. People were curious because there’s no movement on that house,” Hiemstra said. “Many thought it was abandoned. The word got out that Jake and I were cleaning up my neighbor’s house and helping him. And that’s where it went from there like wildfire. As a community, we raised over $24,000 to help with repairs. Our hearts were overwhelmed. Donations of money, time, labor, talent, cleaning, and lots of different trades came together without hesitation.”

Neighbors simply asked the question, ‘what do you need?’ And as they got further into the house, the needs were much more than they had anticipated.

Over the next six weeks, the neighbors painted his house and fixed the heater. The Glass Company replaced broken windows, the electrical wiring was repaired, and furniture, rugs, microwaves, a bed and bedding were donated.

Skip Hellewell and his daughter, Brooke Reynolds, help with house repairs. Submitted photo

Volunteers swept his chimney, a plumber installed a handicap toilet, and checked the pipes; the landscaping was even done. People donated plants and flowers. All closets were cleaned and organized. When Tim returned from the hospital, his house had been transformed into a home.

“I found out through this whole process that there are so many good people out there,” Hiemstra said. “They just don’t know where to begin and how to use it. Everybody came to me offering help, so I said, ‘whatever you have to give, whatever talents, whatever you want, we can use you.’ I didn’t turn any help down.”

Tim didn’t have heat in his house. Windows were broken. Now he enjoys sitting by his fireplace, which was out of commission for more than 35 years, and a donated Christmas tree, which glows outside his bedroom door. 

Now, Tim has home health care and a retired social worker who lives in the community helping him. Hiemstra washes his clothes once a week, Neighbors drop off meals and fill his refrigerator regularly, and with the money raised, Hiemstra’s housekeeper deep cleans his place once a month.

“He loves the fireplace,” Hiemstra said. “Loves it. The house just needed some care, because it hadn’t been cleaned or touched in 35 years, so you can only imagine. But now it’s a little dollhouse. Now, we sit in the living room and talk to him. Before, he wouldn’t even let us past the front door. It’s beautiful. It really has changed him. I think Skip Hellewell said it best, ‘in the history of Three Arch, this will go down in history as a miracle that has brought the community together. It’s just what we needed at this time.’ I said, ‘wow, I never expected that.'”

 

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