Ravell Call, Deseret News
MURRAY — Mostly, Nicklaus Meza is there to clear the snow between the two sisters' homes.
But the visit serves a higher purpose. It keeps LaDawn Powell and her sister Shiella Kravet connected to the outside world, whether they need to venture out in the weather or visitors want to come to them.
Powell, 88, is a client of Salt Lake County Aging Services' Chore Service, which provides snow removal to about 130 clients. After clearing the walk, Meza drops by to check in with Powell.
"I like him. He's a really nice guy. He's very friendly. He does a lot for us," she said.
Peter Hebertson, director of outreach programs for Salt Lake County Aging Services, said Chore Service assists seniors who need help with snow removal in the winter and lawn care in the summer.
"We try to target people who don't have anyone to complete those tasks. The chore program, historically, is one that's had a very long waiting list," said Hebertson.
The program receives about $100,000 in funding per year and it is very limited in the pool of people it can help, Hebertson said.
On Friday, Meza's brother and business partner, Mike, and their father, Andrew, plowed, shoveled and spread ice melt between the women's homes. When they finished that, Andrew Meza picked up Powell's mail from her mailbox across the street from her house.
Powell, who has been a widow for nearly 26 years, said she appreciates the service they provide. "We don't have anyone who can do it for us."
It is particularly important that Powell and Kravet have a clear path between the houses now that Kravet has contracted the flu. "They say it's real bad, especially on the elderly," Powell said.
Hebertson estimates there are 10,000 seniors in Salt Lake County who need assistance with snow shoveling, particularly after a major storm.
Because the county's program has limited funding, Hebertson encourages people to reach out to their neighbors.
"If it's snowing today and you have the ability to shovel their walk as you shovel yours, that's what really helps. If we just pay attention to our neighbors, that's what helps. We all have a senior who lives next door. People don't understand how paralyzing snow can be," he said.
Meza, owner of Ace's Full of Lawn Care, has held the county's contract for the service for the past three years. Hebertson said Meza and his employees have a deft touch with seniors, some who have no close friends or relatives to lend a hand.
"He just gets seniors. He's very committed to them. He's just a good, responsive person," Hebertson said.
Meza said he started the service, in part, to provide fair treatment to customers.
"I try to help the elderly out as much as possible. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people take advantage of the elderly. I don't like to see that at all," Meza said.
Some of his clients have become friends. "I've had a few relationships sprout from just being a manual labor person with them to sitting down and having cookies, lemonade, iced tea and having a conversation with them. It's been a joy."
By the time Meza arrives at a house to shovel snow, he's been up from the wee hours of the morning with his commercial plowing business.
Still, he takes a little time to chat with clients. "A lot of the time with the elderly, they just want to be listened to. Sometimes you just need to take the time to say 'Hi' or go and grab the mail for them," he said.
Meza said it irks him when he visits some clients and sees neighbors on either side of their homes blowing the snow off their own driveways. "Neither take the three seconds go up and down the walk. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me," he said.
Although Meza and his employees try to work as swiftly as possible to ensure they make the rounds to all of their clients, they understand the job requires a human touch.
Without Chore Service and other services that enable seniors to live independently, some people would require different living arrangements, such as assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
No matter what time of day he takes care of the snow, Powell peeks out the window and waves. Sometimes, Meza said, it's 2 a.m.
"She always looks out the window and waves and makes sure we know she appreciates it."