In the middle of a battle against breast cancer, keeping the lawn mowed was the least of concerns for the Paulin family.
The Greenwood family was already dealing with the cancer that required Casey Paulin to have a double mastectomy. Her husband, Kevin, had been diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease that would require a hip replacement.
They were struggling with insurance costs and paying for their house, their treatments and food for their two children.
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Then an angel stepped in, Casey Paulin said.
“Neither one of us could take care of our yard. They had their service come in and take care of our yard once a week. They hired someone to take care of the yard,” she said. “It was huge for us.”
For families such as the Paulins, Community Angels has provided simple services and support in a time when they most need it. While families focus on getting well during treatment for a debilitating disease, the group’s volunteers handle the mundane daily tasks in their lives.
They hire cleaning crews to keep people’s houses tidy and mow lawns when the grass gets too high. Volunteers have helped string Christmas lights during the holidays and built wheelchair ramps for handicapped residents.
“Our focus is to take away the stress from the family, so that they can focus on whoever’s sick,” said Beth Harriman, founder of Community Angels.
The group does not pay any bills for people, Harriman said. Instead, it provides services for them to help make treatment or recuperation easier. The group is particularly important to caregivers, who are already burdened with ensuring their loved one recovers from their illness.
Community Angels provided gas and grocery cards worth $400 to a family whose son was born prematurely at 25 weeks and who were shuttling back and forth to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.
‘Those little things’
The United Way of Johnson County contacted the group about a family whose 1-year-old child needed open heart surgery to repair a birth defect. Community Angels donated $346 to serve as a security deposit for an apartment.
“We can take care of those little things, so that you don’t have worry about it,” Harriman said. “You can focus more on helping their loved one and being with the family instead of stressing out on what needs to get done.”
When Harriman finds a family in need of help, she either uses donated funds to pay for services for a family or partners with local businesses to provide their services for free.
Ryan’s Lawn Care and Moore Lawn Care helped take care of people’s lawns for the group.
In December 2013, she partnered with Fred Zimmerman of Christmas Light Installation Pro to help hang lights for the Kocher family of Indianapolis. Gerry Kocher had been diagnosed with kidney cancer earlier in the year and was too sick to do his traditional display that year.
Zimmerman put lights around the front, back and deck of the house for the family.
With the help of Wheelchair Ramp Ministries, the group arranged to install a handicap-accessible ramp for a pair of elderly men.
“One of the guys has to walk with a walker, and he fell quite a bit trying to get over the step into the house,” said Cindy Jarvis, guardian for the two men. “I mentioned to her about how nice it would be to have a deck and the ramp; and the next thing I knew, she had people out there getting it done.”
In some cases, the organization has helped the same families for months and even years — as long as the family needs it.
“Usually when people get sick, everyone kind of jumps in all at once to offer help. You get an overabundance of food and help, and then it fades away,” Harriman said. “But sometimes treatment can last for a year or more.”
‘Didn’t miss a beat’
Harriman founded Community Angels in 2011 after her sister, who lives in Missouri, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. With her immediately family and parents living in Indiana, it was difficult for them to be with her while she went through chemotherapy and other treatment.
But to fill that void, her church and friends formed a support system that eased the treatment process, Harriman said.
“The family didn’t miss a beat,” she said. “Someone made sure the kids made it to school or activities, so her husband could continue to work and not worry about other things. Somebody was taking care of it.”
At the same time, Harriman learned of a friend going through a similar struggle with cancer. She didn’t have the support system around her, so Harriman offered to help her clean, buy groceries or run errands for her.
The inspiration to put a service in place for families dealing with disease or hardship bloomed.
She called it Community Angels because it would be community members helping their neighbors, she said.
Because the organization relies on donations to survive, Harriman has become a constant fundraiser for the group. She put on luncheons and fashion shows before creating a formal gala to generate the bulk of the money.
The Black & White Ball features a masquerade dance, live band, dancing and a silent auction. Harriman hopes to raise $20,000 for the event, all of which will go toward helping other families, once costs for the event have been covered.
To the families who have received Community Angels’ aid, that mission is a blessing.
“It’s neat to see people come together to help others,” Jarvis said. “Anything within reason, (Harriman) is happy to help people. She has a heart of gold.”
What: Black & White Ball, a masquerade ball that serves as the primary fundraiser for Community Angels, benefiting families affected by life-altering illnesses.
When: 6:30 p.m. to midnight April 11
Where: The Rathskeller, 401 E. Michigan St., Indianapolis
Cost: $75 through Saturday; $85 Sunday to April 11.
To help sponsor: Contact Beth Harriman at firstname.lastname@example.org.