“We have some very dedicated people in this community. It’s amazing how many volunteers want to get involved.”
—Mary Monteith, Christmas in May board member
Pam Mattson was out of options. Her husband Doug had been battling multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years and was now confined to a wheelchair, a fact that was incongruent with their Chaska home built years earlier with tight hallways and backyard steps. Moving into an assisted living facility seemed imminent.
And that’s when Pam found the answer she’d been looking for. “Sometimes you just have to dig up your own opportunities,” the retired Chaska resident says.
Pam discovered and applied for Chaska’s Christmas in May.
Modeled after a national program, Christmas in May began in 1996 as a way for Chaska community members to join forces and make minor repairs and improvements for homeowners who have neither the financial means nor physical ability to perform their upkeep tasks. The nonprofit organization is supported by community leaders, including the city of Chaska, as well as schools, businesses, local service clubs and area faith-based communities.
On May 3, volunteers will embark on Chaska neighborhoods, helping their neighbors as part of the long-standing city tradition. The nonprofit will likely receive between 15 and 30 applications from homeowners, but will only be able to accept 5 to 7 homes.
Who makes the cut? It all depends on the projects, says Mary Monteith, Christmas in May board member and ambassador. Because there are so many tasks to get done during one day, they try to keep the projects fairly simple, like painting and landscaping. “We have some very dedicated people in this community. It’s amazing how many volunteers want to get involved,” says Monteith, adding that she usually expects somewhere between 150 and 300 volunteers.
For the Mattsons, this was Christmas music to their ears. They needed help with a pretty straightforward project: constructing a ramp from their deck to the rest of the backyard, which would allow Doug to easily travel into his backyard paradise.
But a straightforward project turned into a humbling surprise.
As the dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly on the ramp, rain began to fall. Several volunteers from other project locations had to pack up and go home, unable to do their exterior projects, like painting. Except they didn’t go home. Instead they went, in car-loads, to the Mattsons’ home. “There must have been 100 people here,” Pam says.
The best surprise was a “painted flower pot from the girl scouts.” That and a visit from the local youth group, which showed up to rake the yard and cut branches from overgrown trees. “It’s just so heartwarming and humbling,” Pam says. “I tried to thank each one personally, but it was just impossible. The amount of people who helped us was just awesome.”
The volunteers, who include anyone from teenagers (the date is specifically planned around prom and Relay for Life to cater to students) to retired professionals, are a mix of skilled and unskilled workers, performing jobs like painting, cleaning, landscaping and plumbing.
“We’re the unskilled workers,” say Jan and Darrel Knauss. “We do a lot of painting or yard work.”
Skill or no, the Knausses have volunteered with Christmas in May since its inception. “There are certain things that go on our calendar at the beginning of the year, and Christmas in May is one of them,” says Jan, a retired human resources manager.
Starting at 7 a.m., the Knausses and other dedicated volunteers meet at Guardian Angels Catholic School for a continental breakfast. There, they will hear from a homeowner who’s been helped by this organization in the past. And after that, it’s time to get to work.
Applicants aren’t responsible for any costs, but are encouraged to help volunteers throughout the day. “Getting to know the homeowners is one of the best parts about the day,” says Darrel, a retired sales manager. “It’s so nice to see who you’re helping.”
Russ Anderson, store manager of Sherwin Williams in Chanhassen, donates paint each year for this event. “We have some very dedicated people in this community,” Anderson says. “And for us, it’s just fantastic to be a part of it.”
Other local businesses, like Ace Hardware in Chaska, also lend a helping hand, acting as the headquarters on event day.
“At the end of the day, when the volunteers are sitting on the porch with the homeowners looking at the repairs they’ve accomplished in just eight hours time,” Monteith says, “That’s a very cool thing.”
The Mattsons remain in their home, three years after they were recipients of Christmas in May. Pam says even though Doug isn’t able to walk, the fact that he can still easily access his backyard is enough. “When we first moved into our house in 1972, Doug planted two acorns in the backyard that are now full-grown oak trees,” she says. “It’s an extension of what he was able to do. He always loved the outdoors.”
Meanwhile, the couple continues to make small changes to make Doug’s life a little easier. “We’re living one day at a time,” Pam says. But one thing remains: her gratitude for the countless volunteers who endured the rain on that May day three years ago. “It was really emotional,” Pam says. “I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe they’re here just for us.’”
For information about Christmas in May, visit chaskamn.com. or call 952.361.5350