Town of Van Zandt learns meaning of 'Love thy neighbor'

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on September 20, 2012 at 6:03 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 20 at 7:22 PM

Jerry Bajema has lived in the tiny Whatcom County town of Van Zandt for 35 years, and has never seen an example of "community building" like he sees before him.

“It's unbelievable,” he says. “The neighbors have been so great.”

People are coming together for a neighbor in need. He's a 67-year-old disabled man who nearly died this summer in a chainsaw accident that almost cut off his left arm. People say he's the kind of guy who's always there to help others.

“He’s just a very generous soul,” says Kara Deyerin. “He’ll pull you out of the ditch with his tractor. When it snows, he plows everybody's roads and won't accept any compensation from anyone.”

Laurie Lewis knows the quiet gentleman as a neighbor who keeps to himself, but is generous with his kindness. What she didn't know was just how bad off he was. Laurie offered to take care of Jerry's two dogs while he was recovering in the hospital. She couldn’t believe what she found.

Jerry's home had been heavily damaged by a fire. The ceiling was coming down, windows were broken and covered with plywood, water damage was everywhere, and the furniture was falling apart. Jerry, who lives on a meager monthly social security check, didn't have the money to fix the damage -- and didn't want to bother anyone for help. He lived in this squalor for two years.

“That's when I realized that he couldn't come back from Harborview and live in this anymore,” says Lewis. “I didn't know what that meant at the time, other than I knew we had to take action.”

So, the people of Van Zandt, population 250, donated money, materials, time. Over the course of just two weeks, they’re well on their way to building Jerry a brand new home. The walls are up and roof is on. This week windows and doors went in. Neighbors are grateful for the dry September, and are working every day to get the job done before the inevitable rains come.

“One day there's just a field there, and a couple weeks later there's a house up! It’s amazing,” says Jerry, as he fights back tears.

He also picks up a hammer to help out because for him, charity begins at home. His home. Though Jerry is limited to what he can do because of the chainsaw accident, his arm in a cast, held straight by a metal rod, he is still doing whatever he can to lighten the load for others. Just like always.

“Jerry deserves it,” says Deyerin. “He's given so much to people and never asked anything in return for what he's done.”

Soon, Jerry will walk through the front door to his new home. To him, it’s heaven on Earth – a place that embodies what it means to "love thy neighbor."

"This demonstrates how community is supposed to work,” he says. “I love them all. Can't say enough about them.”

The community hopes to have Bajema's house completed by mid-October, but they need more money to finish the job. They’re doing it all for just $20,000 thanks in large part to the generosity of Squalicum Builders. There's a fundraiser concert this Sunday at Mt. Baker High School. People can also write checks to the Jerry Bajema Benefit Account” at People’s Bank branches.

To learn more visit: http://ahomeforjerry.weebly.com/

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