On Saturday morning, 81-year-old Gerald Spader felt a spirit of caring he hadn’t experienced for some time.
“During my generation, we took care of our old folks and each other,” Spader said, tears welling, prompting him to stop for several minutes as he regained his composure.
He had just been asked how it felt to have his neighbors come over to make some home repairs and clean up his yard as part of the 22nd annual Make a Difference Day, a nationwide day of community service.
Across the Albuquerque area, volunteers gathered at various sites to mark the event, including St. Martin’s Hospitality center, where two groups of volunteers from the Rotary Club of Albuquerque repainted and weatherized an outdoor staircase, painted new parking lot lines and trimmed hedges.
More than 200 Sandia National Laboratories employees, contractors, retirees and family members planned to work the entire month on a variety of projects, including sorting and packaging food for Roadrunner Food Bank and doing volunteer work at the Sandia Base Elementary School.
And the city’s Open Space Division and the Nicodemus Wilderness Project organized conservation projects at the Piedra Lisa Open Space at the foothills.
As for Spader, he said he got choked up because he thought a spirit of giving had been lost.
“I think what they’re doing today is out of this world, fantastic, and so needed. It actually demonstrates love,” he said.
Betsy Buckley, a neighbor and Make a Difference Day volunteer, was so moved by Spader’s declaration that she asked if she could hug him, as he stood in his front yard in the North Campus neighborhood surrounding Princeton and Girard, north of the University of New Mexico.
“I think now this spirit of helping may start to spread like wildfire,” Spader commented. “I saw old people I hadn’t seen for awhile looking out to see what was going on.”
Spader said he was also heartened to see so many youngsters involved.
“That would have a tendency to help break down the heartbreak and the loneliness that a lot of old people feel,” he said.
Buckley said later, “It’s so wonderful to see that what you’ve done has made people feel good. When he teared up, it just touched my heart.”
That’s the kind of neighbor-helping-neighbor mentality that Patricia Comer was hoping for when she and her husband, Robert, founded the North Campus Community Project after holding a community meeting to find out needs and concerns of the elderly.
Patricia Comer said she watched her parents age in a sleepy, little bedroom community far from Albuquerque, where they had no help or support from neighbors. Her mom had to be put in a nursing home, and her dad stayed home, but he wasn’t able to do the small things, like get his mail from down the street or shovel his driveway after a snowfall. Most importantly, Comer said, her parents needed companionship, a neighbor to stop by and say “hello.”
As part of forming the neighborhood group, the Comers last year organized a big block party to get to know each other and a yard sale, recruited block captions and rounded up volunteers to be friends and to help elderly residents, Patricia said.
At a house down the street from Spader’s home, Kimberly Zanios and her 14-year-old daughter, Talitha, were raking the front yard and cleaning rain gutters. Talitha was fast becoming friends with another 14-year-old girl she met, Hannaiyah Pickett, who was there with her dad, Ahmed Dawson.
“I wanted my daughter to learn that it’s good to help, because you never know when you’re going to need help,” Dawson said.
Taking a break from the flurry of activity all around her, Zanios said: “It was such an embracing concept. I didn’t hesitate to want to be a part of this.”