Emma Healy spent MLK Day directing the cleaning out of a rundown mobile home filled to the brim with surplus possessions and plain junk. And she did it with a smile.
“Service is definitely my passion,” said Healy, age 18. “I can’t imagine my life without service.”
This Napa High School senior recently created her own nonprofit, The Napa Valley Service Project, with the goal of helping those who are low income or disabled who need help with their homes.
“That’s why we’re here,” said Healy who had recruited a team of volunteers. “We want to help people safely stay in their homes.”
Healy and volunteers have already completed two larger projects: helping a World War II veteran with disabilities clear a patch of blackberry bushes at his home and assisting Rebecca Lynne Fuller shape up her mobile home in central Napa.
Fuller, 62, is almost completely blind and relies on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to get by. She’s lived in the home since 1999 but her disability has made it difficult to keep it clean and maintained. Fuller explained that a series of roommates left the rear bedroom filled to the brim with leftover belongings and trash.
“I didn’t have any way to deal with it,” she said of the debris. “I just closed off the back room and pretended it’s not there.”
To make room for a new roommate – a good friend from Lake Berryessa — Fuller needed help cleaning out that bedroom and other parts of the home.
Even though the house was full, Fuller said she gets around the home by feeling her way on the walls and furniture. “I know where my path is.”
Yes, sometimes she falls or bumps into walls. On Monday, Jan. 21, she had a black eye from on such tumble, she said.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, more than a dozen volunteers, mostly high school students, arrived ready to help Fuller reclaim her home.
“This is amazing,” said Fuller of the volunteers. “It’s blowing my mind.”
A Napa psychologist, Anne Uemura, was also volunteering her time on Monday.
Fuller “has a wonderful attitude” about letting things go, said Uemura. When the group began, a side entrance was completely impassable, she noted. But just a few hours later, it was clear. Healy’s desire to help “touches my heart,” said Uemura.
Dylan Leach, the head coach of the Vintage football team, recruited a number of his players to help with Healy’s project on Monday.
“It’s the least we can do,” said Leach. There is more to life than just school and football, he said, adding that service is an important part of the football team.
Wearing masks and gloves, several athletes and other volunteers carried out bags of old clothing and cushions, worn rugs and carpets. Two football players used bleach spray to kill mold and mildew on the floor.
Meanwhile, another volunteer, Dave Shubin of Napa, told Fuller he would fix her leaky toilet.
Asked by a volunteer about what to do with a box of VHS tapes, Fuller replied to get rid of them.
When asked about a box of audio cassette tapes, Fuller asked that they be donated. Those are new, she said.
Healy said the group was careful to be respectful of Fuller’s belongings.
As the volunteers carried out boxes and bags of refuse, little by little, the clean-out progressed.
“It’s refreshing to get some of this stuff cleared away,” said Fuller. “I’m so thankful.”
Healy said she’s visited with Fuller a number of times. As they hugged for a photo, the two said they’d developed a friendship.
Healy said she was already planning to come back to Fuller’s home to help repair an old wood porch.
As for the future of the Napa Valley Service Project, she’d like to continue networking with the community to find other people in need.
She’d also like to build a list of skilled workers such as electricians, contractors and landscapers who might be willing to help on future projects.
Her group is new but “we’re trying to help multiple families and people.”
“Part of it is just getting the word out,” said Healy. “I know there are people out there that need help but they need to hear about us.”
The teen said she was inspired to create her nonprofit after volunteering with a group called Sierra Service Project. With that group, she’s traveled to Oregon and other areas. She’s also participated in a number of local volunteer projects.
In August, Healy officially launched The Napa Valley Service Project. She’s applied for 501 c (3) nonprofit status and currently has an agreement with the Napa Methodist Church to accept donations for her group.
Healy, who has a 5.0 GPA thanks to AP and honors classes, is awaiting acceptances to college. She has applied to some on the East Coast.
“I want to either become a physician or physician assistant,” she said. “That will allow me to help more people on a broader scale.”
Healy said she does not feel overwhelmed about such an undertaking. “I am definitely ambitious,” she said. “I think of ways to get it done. I trust that we’ll figure it out and work around.”