Joe Salomon removed his baseball cap and gazed out at the army of workers toiling around his small Keyserkill Road farmhouse.
The affable 86-year-old World War II veteran wasn’t short on praise for all they had accomplished in five busy hours: An old collapsed shed was removed from the side of his home, a new staircase was built to replace one that had collapsed, and large logs that had cluttered his lawn were chopped into a neatly stacked pile of firewood for his stove. Yard debris was cleared and daffodils were planted in front of his home, which was getting a fresh coat of white paint after what he estimated to be decades.
“I’m telling you something,” he beamed as he spoke to about a dozen college students gathered around him. “I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done here.”
And it all started with a simple request. The man affectionately known as “Uncle Joe” originally reached out to a fellow parishioner at the Breakabeen Presbyterian Church to see if someone could help him tack up a dislodged gutter at his home.
The call for help was heard by Sierra Taylor, a project outreach liaison with AmeriCorps, who decided helping Salomon would be a good cause to take up during the organization’s day of service. And she had a friend at Union College who happened to have a few friends of her own that were interested in helping someone in need.
On Saturday, nearly four dozen volunteers from Union, the State University of New York at Cobleskill, Schoharie Area Long Term (SALT, the local volunteer organization that formed after catastrophic flooding in 2011) and AmeriCorps descended on Salomon’s home with the goal of making it more manageable for him. The effort drew help from two Greek organizations from Union — Chi Psi fraternity and Sigma Delta Tau sorority — that are now hoping to get other organizations at the school to lend a hand during the next organized day of service.
“We’d like to get more fraternities and sororities involved so we can have even more people here,” said Matthew McKelvy, a junior and president of Chi Psi.
Other communities are also conducting similar service cleanups. In Schenectady, the Inner City Ministry hosted its annual day of service Saturday morning, when dozens of volunteers helped clean up five area parks; in Amsterdam, volunteers are expected to pitch in for the annual citywide litter pickup next weekend.
Similar to these efforts, most of the work at Salomon’s home wasn’t complicated or specialized. Much of it was simply grunt work that he simply couldn’t do any longer.
Like a garage that collapsed from snow more than a decade ago or the brush that had gathered around his home over the years. And then there was the collapsed outdoor staircase leading up to the second floor of his home — projects that Salomon either couldn’t afford on his fixed income or couldn’t handle.
“What these people did today I couldn’t do in two years,” chimed the grateful resident.
The day did more than simply spruce up Salomon’s property. It gave him hope.
Salomon has lived alone since his second wife died. Originally from the Long Island area, he doesn’t have family in the immediate area.
“You know, people are good at heart,” he said. “I’m going to be walking on air over the next few weeks.”