GARY — Jeremiah Clark gave back to others during the annual Good Friday Cleaning at Al Thomas Hi-Rise senior citizen apartment complex, and he learned a valuable lesson.
“I learned I can put some cooking oil on a window to unstick it,” said the 15-year-old freshman at Thea Bowman Leadership Academy as he finished cleaning windows in Lora Moore’s apartment.
He was working with fellow members of the African American Achievers Youth Corps Inc. and state Rep. Vernon G. Smith, D-Gary, chairman of the board of the nonprofit group.
Wearing T-shirts and sweatshirts with the group’s motto, Bury Guns Not Bodies, nearly a dozen young men of junior and senior high school age donned work gloves and spread out in two teams with supplies to help seniors clean their apartments at the multistory building at 100 W. 11th St.
It was Moore, 60, who handed Clark a small container of oil to lubricate the stuck window. As the group cleaned windows in her living room and bedroom and vacuumed her carpet, Moore said she looks forward to this day each year.
“I’ve lived here 4 1/2 years, and they do this for me every time they come,” she said with a big smile on her face. “They did a beautiful job in here.”
Window-cleaning is among the top requests for assistance, said the Rev. Dwight E. Pointer, vice chairman of the AAAYC board as the young men gathered in the lobby of the complex that houses about 150 people ages 50 and older. Pointer led one of the two groups to help residents who signed up for the free cleaning.
“The African American Achievers Youth Corps Inc. was established in 1993 because of the homicide rates in Gary. At that time, Gary was the murder capital of America,” Smith said.
“The seniors are always pleased to see the positive work ethic of the youth corps members, and they admire the respect these gentlemen show their elders,” he said.
In addition, the youths “feel good about themselves, because it is in service to others that they find their own worth and dignity as men and future leaders,” Smith said.
“I am proud of each of these young men. It is an honor for them to offer their assistance to the seniors on Good Friday.”
Good Friday is an important day to do this work, because “Jesus was crucified to help us, and we go back to help other people,” said Linus Davis, 18, a senior at Merrillville High School.
Bertha Parker, 79, called the young men a godsend because she’s on oxygen 24 hours a day and finds doing housekeeping difficult.
“We worry about violating our leases. We have to keep the apartments at a certain level when the inspectors come in,” Parker said. “This is the fifth time I’ve had this group in to help me.”
Johnnie Mae Nelson, 62, welcomed the young men and Smith into her apartment to remove the curtains and shades, then wash the ceiling-high windows.
“I have heart failure and take heart medicine. I can’t pull on the windows,” she said, as she watched Donell Pharms, 18, a junior at Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy in Gary, easily do that task.
In Gilbert Evans’ apartment, Smith and the young men found that the 84-year-old Korean and Vietnam Army veteran needed new curtain rods.
“I’ll make a note and have maintenance (from the Gary Housing Authority) come in to look at this,” Smith said. “Otherwise, I’ll pay to have one installed.”