Ula Burkhart can’t walk very well. She uses a cane to just to steady herself, she said, lifting the cane sitting next to her to demonstrate. Her unsteadiness didn’t stop the GreenTrees resident from being part of the “watering brigade” this summer.
“I watered every night,” Burkhart said, adding she was able to hold on the sprinkler without falling. She wanted to help. “I didn’t want the flowers to die. We have some pretty ones out there,” she said.
GreenTrees is a senior low income-housing complex run by the McHenry County Housing Authority, which obtained a federal grant to do a landscape project on the property. This summer, an estimated 200 volunteers came to the housing complex to plant flowers, plants and trees for seniors to enjoy. Residents, like Burkhart, came out to help with what they could.
“This project started as a landscaping project to update the grounds at GreenTrees, but it turned into so much more,” said Julie Biel Claussen, executive director of McHenry County Housing Authority. “The community of Huntley has embraced the low income senior and disabled residents and has committed to enrich their lives."
A Girl Scout troop wants to come caroling at the complex at Christmas and Willow Creek Church Huntley wants to do a supper. Two other churches, St. Mary Catholic Church and Shepherd of the Prairie, both in Huntley, plan to do mission work at the complex, Fender said.
“A lot of people did not know it (GreenTrees) was here, they thought it was just an apartment building,” Fender said. The landscape project opened up the complex to volunteers and opened up a new level of giving, she said.
It was something Biel Claussen did not expect when the housing authority approached Huntley Trustee Pam Fender last year looking for help to recruit volunteers for the project. The housing authority paid for a professional landscape architect and to remove the old landscape but needed to save money on the labor.
“For the community to come out and help, it’s heartwarming,” Biel Claussen said. “It was so exciting that the whole community is behind this.”
“We so appreciate it. I can’t tell you how much it made a difference,” she told Fender Monday during a reception Monday to say thank you.
GreenTrees has 56 apartments and all are senior low-income housing, Biel Claussen said. The housing authority provides the basics, a place to live, but seniors don’t have enough for extras, she said. Many residents use the Grafton Food Pantry, she said. Another benefit: the housing authority will be able to keep rent the same for the year, she said.
Residents work on the project too, helping where they could, Fender said. The residents had a “watering brigade,” which was important due to this year’s drought. It was a terrible summer for gardeners, she said.
What makes Huntley residents come together is a feeling of community, Fender said. “We still have that country charm. People joke we don’t have the farms anymore but we have that country feeling. People want to help each other,” Fender said.
Volunteers and residents were able to interact with each other, too.
The volunteers “talked to residents and spent” time with residents, said Janice, a resident who declined to give her last name. “I think the visiting is as important as the planting. Both parties (volunteers and residents) got something out of it. I think sometimes, the interaction is just as important.”