SMITHFIELD — Brent Reck, a code enforcement officer hired last summer, spent almost all of last year overwhelmed with months-old complaints about overgrown grass and shrubs, scrap metal and unsafe buildings.
He noticed many of the properties were owned or occupied by older residents who couldn’t afford the upkeep or do the work themselves.
“I didn’t realize how many elderly people there were with no support whatsoever,” Reck said.
That’s how Reck came up with the idea for Smithfield’s new volunteer program, Operation Helping Hand. Last month, Smithfield First Baptist Church and Temple Baptist Church in Selma joined forces to help with about 90 properties, mostly cutting grass and trimming shrubs.
Reck said that’s the biggest problem he’s encountered with senior-citizen residents so far. Many of them have so much overgrowth that hiring an outside contractor would be too expensive, he said.
“Some of the yards had gone so far that they had grass and weeds five, six feet (high),” Reck said.
The goal of Operation Helping Hand, in most cases, is to get property owners back on track. Once the heavy work is done, they can hire an outside company for monthly maintenance at a reasonable cost.
“They’re on a maintenance level now,” Reck said. “They don’t have to fork out $500 a month.”
Bryan Harris, outreach minister for Smithfield First Baptist, spearheaded the church’s one-day “service blitz” last month, when volunteers helped with 15 projects around town.
Harris said he hopes to expand the church’s involvement in Operation Helping Hand and to have volunteers help residents on a regular basis.
“Brent has a list of needs for the community,” Harris said. “We just need to get those together and see what kind of consistency we can have in meeting those (needs).”
Reck is also trying to spread the word and get more organizations involved. A few other churches, including the local Latter-day Saints church, have expressed interest.
Eventually, Reck wants to get a rotation of volunteers and organizations to help out whenever they’re needed.
“It’s definitely going to be permanent,” he said. “The trick is going to be getting enough volunteer organizations to participate.”
Operation Helping Hand is partially the product of Reck’s “do no harm” style of enforcement. He tries to avoid issuing citations – which come with a fine of $50 per day, per violation. Instead, he looks for ways to help property owners get in compliance with town rules.
If they can’t do the work themselves, he’ll try to help them find volunteers who can.
“There are a lot of people who want to help and a lot of people who need help,” Reck said. “I was fortunate enough to be able to put the two together.”
Harris said that Reck’s approach has allowed local volunteers to get involved.
“Brent’s take on his job is, ‘How can we help folks or help make the community stronger?’ ” Harris said. “That just lines right up with what we’re trying to do as a church.”