'The response was phenomenal,' she said. 'I couldn't be more grateful.'
After a disabled woman in Billerica, Massachusetts, received a rude note telling to clean up her yard, her local community rallied in her support. Speaking to The Washington Post, Kristene Whitehouse said that she was shocked to find the note in her mailbox. "Clean up your yard leaves!! They blow all around," read the handwritten note. For emphasis, the word "around" was underlined several times. Whitehouse said she stared at the note as she stood in front of her home in the Boston suburb of Billerica, where she lives alone. "I felt very small, demeaned, and powerless," said the 53-year-old who was born with several missing fingers as well as vision and hearing issues. She is also on a fixed income and can't afford to hire someone to clean her yard.
After reading the note on November 28, 2022, Whitehouse went to the Billerica Residents Facebook group and shared her thoughts about the anonymous note: "I debated whether I should post this or not. This is not the first such letter I've received over the years nor will it be the last," she wrote. "Thank you to the Billerica Resident, most likely a neighbor, who felt called upon to leave me such an addressed envelope and note. I am disabled and on a fixed income. I cannot physically do all the yardwork and I cannot afford to hire anyone. I will not apologize. I deserve to live here as much as the next person. You make it so I don’t even feel like trying to care about the yard anymore. Merry Christmas."
Soon, her post was flooded with comments from concerned neighbors. "Whoever wrote you that note is a petty little coward," wrote one. "Lots of people can't get to their leaves for dozens of reasons, none of which are, 'I hate my neighbors and want them to suffer,'" another neighbor commented.
Cheryl Wesinger, who lives on the same street as Whitehouse, read the post and the very next day, went over with a rake and lawn mower. "She obviously needed the help," Wesinger said, adding that she was disappointed someone left such a mean message for Whitehouse.
Wesinger collected around ten bags of leaves and planned to return in a few days to conduct additional yard maintenance, but a family member fell ill and her plans had to be put on hold. Even though she couldn't go over, Wesinger reached out to Mary Leach, who manages the Beautify Billerica group.
Leach spread the word about Whitehouse's dilemma, and that weekend, a group of about a dozen individuals—both adults and children—gathered at her home to clear the lawn with rakes, leaf blowers and bags. They loaded 79 bags with leaves that had fallen from Whitehouse's trees and also trimmed the hedges. "Neighbors stepped up. I had every faith that somebody was going to," Wesinger said. "It was just so nice that people were reaching out and offering to help."
Whitehouse expressed gratitude to her neighbors for their kindness. "The response was phenomenal," said Whitehouse. "I couldn't be more grateful." She added that in recent years, an unknown individual has left mean-spirited messages for numerous others whose houses and yards do not meet that person's criteria. Whitehouse herself received a similar humiliating note in 2015.
Leach, who lives on the same block, was enraged when she learned about the message Whitehouse received. "It made me very upset and angry because that's really not what Billerica is. It doesn't represent well what the people of our town are really like," she remarked.
The Beautify Billerica organization, which has over 800 members, holds a regular "Power Hour" cleaning event, which mainly consists of garbage picking in a public spot. The clean-up at Whitehouse's house took the group around two hours to complete. Both Leach and Whitehouse agreed that embarrassing a neighbor whose property needs maintenance is never acceptable. "The person who left this note maybe forgot their compassion for a moment," Leach speculated. She then gave that person some counsel, saying, "Think about what you can do to help."