Thursday, April 22, 2010

Novartis lends hand to senior citizens in Vacaville

Novartis lends hand to senior citizens in Vacaville

Posted: 04/22/2010 01:03:18 AM PDT

Working in the rain, Novartis employees Antonio Banes (left), Pam Rood and Thomas Schwarz (right) shovel new gravel into the front garden area of a home in the 100 block of Olympic Circle in Vacaville on Wednesday. (RICK ROACH / THE REPORTER)
Chilly temperatures and driving rains failed to dissuade dozens of Good Samaritans early Wednesday from descending on Vacaville and offering their own brand of sunshine to a clutch of senior citizens.
"It's a chance to give back," said Rob Carter, site head at Novartis, a Switzerland-based biopharmaceutical company with a branch in Vacaville. "It's in our community, it's where we live, where we work."

From around 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., about half the company's 150 employees fanned out in teams across Leisure Town and on La Cresta Drive to do home improvement work on the houses of 14 elderly and disabled homeowners. The event was part of the company's 14th annual international Community Partnership Day, in which staff across the

Novartis employee Mark Feaster cleans sludge from the rain gutter of a home in the 100 block of Olympic Circle in Vacaville. (RICK ROACH / THE REPORTER)
globe performed volunteer projects in their communities. This was the fourth annual local event, in partnership with the city, since the Vacaville branch opened in 2006.
Everyone involved, Carter said, benefits as much as those being helped. As well, a sense of teamwork is not only fostered, but strengthened.

"When I first heard about it, I was impressed," said Deb Curtis, who works in document control at Novartis. "I was excited to be a part of this."

As fat droplets of rain splattered on the flats of multicolored blooms that sat on a La Cresta Drive sidewalk, waiting to be planted, Curtis and fellow staffers raked, yanked old growth, mended fences and more.

Toiling along with the staff were Mayor Len Augustine and City Councilwoman Dilenna Harris.
"For team-building, you can't beat this. It brings people from all departments together," Augustine said, briefly seeking shelter from the inclement weather. "They really want to be involved in the community, in a physical way."

Homeowner Jonathan Hensley, 73, said he appreciated the help.

"I didn't expect them to buy plants and buy me a bench," the retired military man enthused, explaining his panic when volunteers dumped his old one only to see them replace it with a newer model. "I like to sit out here. I people-watch."

Hensley has had a quadruple bypass and walks with a cane. In February, his beloved wife, Mary, died and he found that life had become a bit more difficult. But he makes time to volunteer at the McBride Senior Center and with Meals on Wheels. The landscaping, meanwhile, got away from him, he admitted, calling the volunteers a godsend.

"The people at Novartis, they're just a great crew to take time out of their schedule to help guys like me," he said.

On Lassen Circle, another team worked feverishly against the clock -- and ever-darkening skies -- to get Mary Robertson's landscaping in order.

"We did all the weeds, all the planters, all (of) the backyard," said Eric Hice, an engineering senior designer at Novartis. "We're all out here doing this and we're happy to do it."

"It's fun to do, to help somebody else out," chimed in Todd Johnson, a facility engineer. "It's community partnership."

Juan and Mary Lou Rico, owners of an Olympic Circle residence, bid a sad farewell to their helpers. Mary Lou had already awarded them with fresh-baked peanut butter cookies and lemonade.

"It was a perfect break, right when it was raining down the hardest," said Mark Feaster, a project manager.

"We told them if they stayed all day we'd have happy hour," joked Mary Lou.

All joking aside, the couple said they were grateful.

"It's just harder for us to get down there," she said of the garden beds. "I give them a lot of credit."