Small fix-it chores are just about impossible for many seniors, such as replacing hard- to-get-at light bulbs, unclogging sinks or replacing drawer knobs?"that's where North Riverside has come to the rescue for its elderly residents.
Eighty-two-year-old Ed Pecka has already fallen down once going down two stairs from his kitchen to the backdoor of his home on Ninth Avenue. His 81-year-old wife Wilma said Ed wasn't hurt, but she was worried that friends their age may stop coming over for fear of falling themselves.
The Peckas called Vince Ranieri, the worker for the village's Handyman Program, which was instituted by Mayor Richard Scheck two years ago and has gained the weekly praise and admiration from the local seniors.
Ranieri and his assistant, Scott Kopach, went to the Pecka home on Aug. 4 and spent about an hour installing a railing along the stairs, for an easy-to-pay charge for seniors on a fixed income: Free.
"The program is so wonderful, we have nothing but good things to say about them, I think it's great that the village would provide such a great service," Wilma Pecka said.
It was the third time the Peckas had used the program. Ranieri also came out to help get down a tall window shade and repaired the garage doorjamb after someone had tried unsuccessfully to chisel it open.
"I don't know of any other town that's so generous. Half the time you don't know who to call, professionals like plumbers won't come out for small jobs," Wilma said.
Simple jobs are what the program takes care of, said Tim Kutt, the village's Public Works director. The village pays for Ranieri's full-time salary, as well as the first $25 of any materials needed for a job. The senior pays for any other material costs. Thousands of dollars in tools were donated by various local businesses and agencies, and Joe Rizza Ford gave a village a van.
"It's not remodeling, strictly repairs," Kutt said. "Most of the stuff is small-time, such as light bulb switches, toilet guts problems, changing smoke detector batteries or fixing a worn-out faucet. The program is geared to keep seniors off ladders, to protect their safety, to make sure they don't get ripped off and to make sure they're not eating meals in the dark."
The program is set up to help only seniors, though sometimes the village will send Ranieri out for a job for younger, in-need residents, Kutt said. There are only a couple other rules. For example, the program can't be used to repair property that's rented, he said.
Still, Ranieri goes on 30 to 40 calls a month, at least one per day, and sometimes up to five per day, Kutt said. A service call usually takes one to two hours.
Hundreds of seniors have sent in thank-you letters to the village, Ranieri and Mayor Scheck. Elroy and Georgia Hodoval, who are moving out, said the handyman program will be one of the most important things they will miss about the village.
"The handyman service is wonderful. The senior citizens are treated great," Hodoval said in her letter.
Scheck said he's proud of the handyman efforts.
"It's probably our most popular program," the mayor said. "It gets the most complimentary calls, and allows us to check on our seniors, to make sure they're doing OK. It's definitely a plus for our village."