Karen Jackson sat in her living room peering down at her golden Labrador, Honey, through welling tears. She tried to compose herself, but the tears spilled over as she held Honey's face between her …
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Karen Jackson sat in her living room peering down at her golden Labrador, Honey, through welling tears. She tried to compose herself, but the tears spilled over as she held Honey's face between her hands, looking to the dog for support.
A television played in the background as Honey gently returned Jackson's gaze, patiently comforting her owner in the moment of grief.
The 65-year-old Castle Rock woman was closing a tough couple of years.
In 2017, Jackson was hospitalized twice for strokes. They affected her speech and communication abilities. A diabetic, she also suffered declining eyesight. Jackson's doctor eventually told her the time had come — she could no longer drive because of her worsening vision.
With that, Jackson had to leave work. In late 2017 she ended 16 years with Acme Brick Company in Castle Rock, a fact that still brings her to tears.
“I liked my job,” she said through tears. “I really did.”
The senior, disabled, doesn't have nearby family. She's close with some women from church with whom she holds Bible study, but she lives alone. Over the years, as her health continually declined and doctor bills tapped her savings, her house's condition deteriorated.
Belongings piled up inside, but also outside. Landscaping that once boasted poppies and irises gave way to weeds and dead trees. A crumbling, makeshift stairway offered the only access between the front and back yards.
It was hard to keep up, Jackson said, and in early 2018, an inspector from the Town of Castle Rock's zoning division arrived at her front door. They'd learned of alleged code violations, said Community Liaison Cara Reed. The inspector was there to confirm if any existed.
That was the day things changed for Jackson. It marked the beginning of a journey where she'd touch numerous hearts, as dozens of volunteers worked over the following year to improve her property, and ultimately, forge lasting relationships with her.
“You see her heart, you see her smile, you see the joy that surrounds her,” said volunteer Cynthia Tkach, “You realize there's a lot more to Ms. Jackson than at first what you might see.”
Reed said town inspectors don't write up code violations and move on. They assess the whole picture. What is the violation, how should it be corrected, and are property owners able to make the necessary changes?
“She's our resident. So, you can't just give a notice or issue a fine. You have to look at the whole picture and Ms. Jackson's support system,” Reed said.
With a broken garage door, Jackson did not have a space to store the items accumulating on her property, like her lawnmower or other lawn tools. Dead trees on her property needed to be removed. Brush had to be cleared to mitigate fire hazards and clear her walkways. Her rickety stairs, made of cinderblocks, rotten timbers and rocks wedged into loose sections, needed to be replaced with a ramp.
Code violations ranged from outdoor storage to overgrown brush. It would take time, money and manpower to fix it all.
Town staff quickly realized Jackson did not have the physical capability or financial means to bring her property into compliance. So, Reed began rallying resources.
To date she's scheduled four cleanup days at Jackson's home and organized more than 50 volunteers who have tidied up the property a few hours at a time.
She started by making calls to Lowe's and Home Depot to see what supplies they might be willing to donate. The stores made the maximum donation allowed by company policy — a few hundred dollars — but individual employees then offered to provide any supplies not covered by the store through their personal pockets.
Dennis Driml, a ProService Specialist at Lowe's, personally donated between $1,500 and $2,000 in supplies.
“For a city to go out like that and help someone, an individual, is amazing,” he said. “To have that kind of involvement with so many people was really cool because they cleaned up that yard really fast.”
Driml said his personal background motivates him to help others. He can empathize with Jackson's life as a disabled senior. He raised a daughter who is severely disabled, he said, and his middle child, a son, is a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. Driml's son also volunteered at Jackson's home.
A longtime contractor, Driml helped supervise the project at Jackson's home and instructed volunteers. Many of them came from Douglas County 4-H club Oakland OK's. Tkach, a parent in the club, said they learned of Jackson after contacting Reed for volunteer opportunities. They first volunteered in cleaning up her property in 2018 and have come back twice so far in 2019.
“I think it's so important for our youth to understand the circumstance,” she said. “You might have driven by her in the past and gone, 'Oh, what an eyesore.'”
Today the overgrown brush in Jackson's yard is cleared. Her stairs have been replaced with a ramp built by Driml. Volunteers installed a shed in her backyard to store her lawn tools. They cleared her gutters, pulled dead trees and planned to fix loose support beams on her porch.
Through the help of dozens, the property looks far different than it did a year ago. Driml said they removed certain plants that would otherwise return annually, in order to lessen the amount of maintenance needed at Jackson's home.
“It still does need work,” he said. “It would be cool if somebody would just go by on a weekly basis and just mow her grass.”
And despite the help with her yard this season, Jackson's health problems persist. She takes insulin four times a day and pills for her kidneys to prevent dialysis. She's been receiving shots in her eyes for months to treat her vision problems. The regimen gets cumbersome, she said.
“You just get to the point of, 'I'm tired, I don't want to do it anymore,'” she said.
But her spirits have been lifted, she said, by the people who came into her life since that inspector arrived at her door in 2018.
“When I saw all these people show up the first time, I went, 'What?'” she said with a big laugh and happy tears, Honey still by her side. “We really got a lot of stuff done.”
Reed said she plans to check on Jackson regularly moving forward and provide her with resources if she falls behind again.
“She can always call on me,” Reed said. “I've made a connection with her. I want to make sure she's OK too. She does not reach out a lot. I have to go to her.”
Tkach said their 4-H club will remain available to help Jackson keep up her property.
Driml said he made a friend in Jackson through the project. He too plans to check in on her, and Honey, in the future. And he's taking away life lessons from Jackson's story.
“If I'm disabled and if I'm at home and I have nobody that can help me, or nobody that visits me, that would not be a good value of life,” Driml said. “It would be awesome for somebody to care and just give a dang about people in that condition. I don't see why it's not more widespread.”
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