La Mirada ’s Helping Hands Program Enables Needy to Maintain Homes

The City of La Mirada won an Award for Excellence for this project in the Community Service and Economic Development category of the 2007 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information about the award program, visit

The City of La Mirada’s Helping Hands program brings the community together, promotes a healthy living environment and encourages service to others.

While responding to a growing number of code enforcement complaints about home and landscape maintenance violations, City of La Mirada officials noted many seniors, people with disabilities and less affluent residents were not able to fix these violations themselves. At the same time, La Mirada was developing a growing list of volunteers looking for opportunities to help in their community. A Helping Hands program emerged to match these needs and resources — and much more.

La Mirada ’s Helping Hands program was designed in 2002 to enable residents to continue living in their homes despite physical difficulties, impairment and financial instability. Residents who are elderly, low-income or have disabilities may call on these volunteers to assist them with housecleaning and yard work that they themselves are not able to do alone. Participants typically do not have family members they can depend on or funds to maintain their homes. Helping Hands does not charge for this assistance and the organization provides referrals to other social service agencies as needed.

The Community Pitches In

Each month, volunteers from schools, churches and families come together to spend a day serving the community through Helping Hands. The city provides necessary tools, housecleaning supplies and transportation to each resident’s home.

The Helping Hands program also uses a retired contractor and skilled volunteers to give direction and advice to other volunteers in the field, and in turn the program incorporates volunteers’ suggestions.

The number of residents seeking assistance from the Helping Hands program has grown substantially. To meet the demand, the city is working to develop stronger connections with volunteer groups; for example, coordinating with students from Biola University, youth from La Mirada High School’s Key Club, Girls’ League and Positive Alternatives Club as well as local churches, which regularly provide volunteers for the program. Exposing young people to volunteer opportunities better prepares them to become more active members of their community as adults.

La Mirada has also developed volunteer opportunities for local businesses. With consistent help in the form of labor and supplies from local businesses, such as building supply retailers and tree trimming companies, Helping Hands has helped residents with more extensive needs and increased its reach into the community.

Many residents call on Helping Hands for assistance with code enforcement-related issues. One resident was referred to the program because she was disabled and could not afford to fix the peeling paint on her house. Instead of the city fining her for not complying with city codes, the Helping Hands program worked with her and partnered with a building supply retailer to repair her house.

Creating a Community That Cares

When houses are brought into compliance with city code, the homeowners feel more safe and secure in their homes, the neighborhood is beautified and a source of concern is eliminated. By recognizing these problems as important issues and taking steps to solve them, La Mirada promotes a community environment where caring and responsiveness are the norm.

Helping Hands has also helped meet residents’ social service needs by providing referrals to care services, home modification services and meal delivery programs. These referrals ensure that residents have access to information that they might not otherwise obtain while also helping them remain independent in their homes.

As the program has grown, its structure has also been developed and refined, including establishing eligibility requirements for assistance. If residents need assis tance due to income constraints, they must meet income criteria and show proof of income. Senior residents must show documentation that they are at least 55 years old to qualify for assistance.

Building a Track Record

Helping Hands has grown each year in La Mirada, a community where older adults account for nearly 25 percent of the total population and needs are increasing steadily. Since the program began, Helping Hands has sent more than 625 volunteers to 136 sites throughout La Mirada, providing nearly 1,900 hours of service. Helping Hands events are now held at least monthly and provide assistance to three to four homes per event.

In 2006, Helping Hands won the California Parks and Recreation Society’s Award of Excellence for Recreation/Community Services under the Neighborhood/Community Life section. In 2007, the program won the Los Angeles County Public Service Recognition Week’s Team Accomplishment Award. This type of recognition helps build interest in the program and attract more volunteers.

The City of La Mirada’s Helping Hands program brings the community together, promotes a healthy living environment and encourages service to others.

Contact: Thomas Robinson, director of community services, City of La Mirada; phone: (562) 943-0131; e-mail:

This article appears in the April 2008 issue of Western City
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