Helping Your Neighbors: 'It's Just What You Do'
Lake Saint Louis resident Joe Snell believes in helping out his neighbors, and he started the Neighborhood Assistance Preservation Program when he saw the need for help on a larger scale.
(The Huffington Post has chosen Joe Snell of Lake Saint Louis, MO as its "Greatest Person of the Day"—an honor recognizing people who confront issues in their community with creativity and passion.)
When Joe Snell takes out his snow blower after a winter storm, he doesn't just clear his own driveway. He also clears the driveways of neighbors who can't to do the work themselves.
"It's just what you do," Snell said.
After a 25-year career in the Naval Reserves and active service, Snell became an insurance agent and financial advisor. He and his wife Marguerite moved to Lake Saint Louis in 1993.
Snell has been very involved in the community, serving as president of his Kiwanis club, Rotary club and Chamber of Commerce. Living in Lake Saint Louis gave him the chance to pursue his interest in boating, sailing and golf.
During walks around his Lake Saint Louis neighborhood with Marguerite, Snell realized that "some of these houses needed help." Many of them, Snell learned, needed help because the homeowners needed help. One neighbor had broken his hip; another's wife was in the hospital. Snell helped out by mowing their lawns.
"You just do things like that," Snell repeated. His simple restating of the Golden Rule is clearly his philosophy of life: People need to look out for each other.
While attending a Rotary Club meeting with Lake Saint Louis Alderman Ralph Sidebottom, Snell learned about O'Fallon's Neighborhood Preservation Team, which partners police services with code enforcement to identify residents who need assistance. Snell's Rotary Club friends encouraged him to create a similar program in Lake Saint Louis.
Usually, a code enforcement violation in Lake Saint Louis—like for unmown grass, or peeling paint—would result in letters from the city, a court date and fines.
Snell and Sidebottom went to the Lake Saint Louis Board of Aldermen with an idea for a Neighborhood Assistance Preservation Program. Code enforcement officials would refer cases to the NAPP when a homeowner was physically or financially unable to make the necessary repairs to bring his home up to code.
"The Board passed a resolution in April of 2009 to create the NAPP," Snell said, "And in July of that year, we had our first project."
That first project was a big one: painting an entire house. A $500 donation from Denny and Associates got the group started with paint. Christian Environmental Services provided free debris removal, and Snell bought other supplies out of his own pocket.
The second project came in May 2011 after a fierce storm tore huge branches from a neighbor's tree. "We had eight guys with chain saws, and others dragging branches from the back yard," Snell said. The Saturday-morning project was finished quickly.
The group's third and most recent project may have been their most challenging to date: a home on Pyrenees Drive. Its gutters were overflowing, its siding mildewed and rotten.
Snell rallied his group of volunteers, mostly retirees. "I'm the youngest of us, and I'm 64," he said.
Why retirees and seniors?
"Those are the people that volunteer," Snell said. "The work doesn't appeal to a younger group. They're too busy for it."
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
The Lake Saint Louis city website states NAPP is "a program designed to identify residents in need of assistance in maintaining their homes and/or properties.... Home ownership can be challenging, and maintenance can be more difficult from some than for others."
"We saw a need to make code enforcement more proactive than reactive," Snell said.
"Joe carries the ball on this," Sidebottom said. "It wouldn't have happened without him, and we're fortunate to have him. He helps keep NAPP alive."
Still, Snell is determined not to let residents take undue advantage of NAPP services. Some people may not be physically able to do the work, but they're able to pay for professional services; NAPP is not an option for them.
The program is also not for those who simply neglect their homes. An application process through city code enforcement aims to prevent that from happening.
Snell has become a role model for his neighborhood. When he was clearing neighbors' driveways last winter, others emerged from their homes to pitch in. It's a trend Snell would like to see catch on.
He spoke of a resident who called to ask if NAPP could mow his neighbor's lawn. The neighbor's husband was in a nursing home, and the grass was getting too tall.
"Why don't you help out?" Snell asked him. "He was concerned, but he wouldn't do anything about it."
"It's nice to be healthy enough to get out and help people," he said.