Where Becky Martinez, 18, lives in Las Vegas there aren't a lot of trees. Until today, the St. Ambrose University student never had raked leaves.
“I love watching all the trees changing colors, too,” she said.
She had her chance to learn all about fall chores Sunday as she and more than 500 other St. Ambrose students volunteered to help their neighbors clean up or fix up on “Bee the Difference Day.”
They fanned out to about 70 yards near their campus, making homeowners happy and grateful.
One home at Western Avenue and Lombard Street suffered a flooded basement in June, so while owner Steve Fish was inside remodeling, his wife, Linda, was outside raking.
“In years past I always felt like there were more elderly homeowners who needed more help than us, but this year I’m dyin’, so I’m thrilled they’re here,” she said with relief.
Martinez admitted that on most Sundays she might be sleeping in, while her raking partner, Anna Wash, 19, of Manhattan, Ill., said she’d be doing “nothing.” They were using the Fish couple’s rakes and stuffing leaf bags.
Down the block at 2327 Western Ave., grateful homeowner Sara O’Callaghan was amazed at the Bee’s efficiency. Her six helpers cleaned up her yard so quickly, they all decided to work on the yard next door.
“It’s a bit ironic,” she said, smiling, “but these students who like to do yard work are cleaning the yard of a home rented by other Ambrose students who don’t like to do yard work.”
O’Callaghan later provided her helpers with bottles of water and granola bars.
“I enjoy helping people out,” said volunteer Jessica Kapknowski, 21, of Chicago.
When you’re working with friends, it’s not really “work,” according to Meghan Dean, 20, also of Chicago.
“It’s better than just hanging around my dorm. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of bonding,” Dean said.
Gerry Eagle, at Western Avenue and Dover Court, was using a leaf blower to help her troupe of Ambrose Bees who, after just a half hour, had filled 12 leaf bags. She said she was “extremely happy” to see the students.
Many of the volunteers admitted they hadn’t raked leaves at home, but they all agreed that working with friends made it fun. Only one in the group knew why raking is important.
“It helps keep the grass alive,” said Calista Krouthamel, 26, of Davenport.
Another homeowner, sitting on her front steps with her Ambrose assistants, exclaimed, “They’re wonderful. My yard was cleared like that,” snapping her fingers.
Over in the 2400 block of Ripley Street, there was a crowd of about 60 students: the men’s varsity and junior varsity basketball team, along with the girls’ varsity basketball team.
“We make it fun,” said Sam Ainsworth, 19, from Elmhurst, Ill. “We’re teammates — we’re good at working together.”
Janice and Troy Durrant have spent the past few months renovating their home on Ripley Street. Sunday, they were in the yard painting their porch skirting while the students handled of the raking.
“I heard this commotion outside, and it was a great surprise to see so many,” Janice said.
Bob Aye of 2204 Ripley St. had signed up for help, in part because he can’t climb a ladder anymore to clean the gutters on his two-story home. So Regan McLauphlin, 19, of Waterloo, Iowa, took the honors by climbing to the top, throwing handfuls of leaves down to her waiting fellow students.
“This saved my back and knees,” Aye said with relief.
They had a good day for it: sunny, dry and not much wind. The secretary of the Student Government Association, Aubrey Graham, 19, of Erie, Ill., said this was the biggest volunteer turnout in the seven years they’ve been doing it.
“We really want to give back to our community, because that’s the Ambrose mission, to touch the lives of other people,” Graham said.
Afterward, the SGA, courtesy of a private donor, grilled hot dogs and hamburgers for the volunteers. The student volunteers also asked the homeowners for canned goods, which will be given to the Café on Vine, a homeless meal site in downtown Davenport.
All the Ambrose students wore special T-shirts for the day, on the backs of which was written, “Bee Incredible.” Nearby homeowners agreed they were.