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Hobo Jungle a fun way to teach safety

When life gives you lemons, the saying goes, make lemonade.

One Homewood woman recently took the sour taste of an anonymous scolding and decided to go another direction.

From lemons, she made a flock of flamingos.

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  Leslie Bolser, center, and friends 
  celebrate after planting a flock 
  of plastic flamingos in Bolser’s 
  yard, a gesture of playful 
  defiance following what they 
  deemed a bullying letter 
  scolding Bolser for the state 

  of her lawn. (Provided photo)

Late in July, Leslie Bolser received a letter admonishing her for the state of her South Ashland Avenue home’s lawn. She was not the only resident to receive the letter, but she was perhaps the first to post it in a local Facebook group.

Several other recipients subsequently posted reports of receiving the same letter, including  a caregiver of a blind, elderly widow.

Officials confirmed the letter did not originate with village government.

The letter began by referring to Homewood’s reputation as one of the best communities in the Chicago area. Then it accuses the recipient of failing to support that reputation.

“Your lawn is poorly kept and it contributes to a ‘blighted’ appearance in this community,” the letter states. 

It ends on a more positive note, “Thank you! … for helping all of us to maintain our property values!” but the sting of rebuke made a bigger impression on Bolser than the thank-you at the end.

“I was really hurt when I got it. I felt like anyone who really knew me and my life would never have done that,” she said. “And I also felt embarrassed.”

It wasn’t that she felt her lawn was beyond reproach, but she felt bullied.

She noted that a number of factors affect her family’s lawn care performance, including her health problems, a baby to care for and a husband who often works 14-hour days.

She posted a photo of the letter along with a message to the unknown sender expressing hurt and resentment at the letter’s tone.

“I was hoping the anonymous person would see it and realize that I’m a person with a real life situation and not just a house you can leave an anonymous letter at,” she said. “I would understand if my grass was a foot high and I was getting tickets. But if my lawn doesn’t suit your needs? Offer to help. Ask if I need anything. Be a neighbor.”

As it happened, some members of the Facebook group provided the neighborliness she found lacking in the letter’s message.

During the online conversation, someone mentioned a lawn in a nearby community with numerous ornamental statues to reduce mowable space. Someone else mentioned flamingos. 
An idea was born: Flamingos for Peace.

Bolser set up a Gofundme page to accept donations for the project. Part of the donations went to purchasing a flock of bright flamingo-shaped lawn ornaments. The idea was to counter the scolding with something fun and quirky.

Bolser also pledged to improve her lawn care, hiring a service if necessary.

But the rest of the proceeds, she said on the Gofundme page “will go toward local anti-bullying organizations.” 

She chose to make a $130 donation to Friends of Rachel, an organization at James Hart Junior High School that is affiliated with Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying organization named for the first victim of the 1999 shooting spree at Columbine High School. 

Elizabeth Hackett, James Hart social worker, said Friends of Rachel is a student club that focuses on preventing bullying and making the school and community a better place.

“Our projects change every year, depending on the needs of the school and the ideas our club comes up with,” Hackett said. “We like to have our students come up with the ideas.”

In the past the club has created murals in the school, painted windows in downtown Homewood with H-F High School’s Friends of Rachel club and hosted open gym sessions and movie nights for students, she said. Last spring, the club took a field trip to volunteer at the Sojourner Truth House in Gary, Ind.

Not everyone responding online was supportive or positive, Bolser said, but a number of people offered ideas and help, including assistance in creating the Flamingos for Peace display on Aug. 11. Bolser said the online response was gratifying.

“I was very humbled. Lots and lots of people have offered us help,” she said. “I think it shows the best part of our community. I can tell you I spent more time feeling grateful and blessed than the brief negative feelings that came with that letter.”

Bolser said the support she received also is helping the family keep the lawn in better shape. She and her husband have arranged for a lawn service to help when they are unable to mow. 

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