Line workers trim away one obstacle for a family facing many challenges

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On a recent Friday afternoon, a large team of linemen converged on a backyard in Scio Township in Washtenaw County to help a family in need. Paul Schlack, foreman for Asplundh, a DTE Energy contract line crew, was planning maintenance work in a customer’s yard when he noticed three massive downed trees on the other side of the fence.

Working in a highly-skilled trade, and for a company that also provides tree trimming services, Schlack knows that cutting and removing trees can be a dangerous and time consuming task without the right skillsets.

Curious about the story behind the quickly deteriorating yard, he chatted with the neighbor to find out more. What he heard was a story of a young family facing many challenges. During the severe wind storm of March 2017, a mother battling Muscular Dystrophy, and her autistic son, watched three of their beloved 30-foot Blue Spruce trees come crashing to the ground and onto their home.

“Within a space of minutes my son and I watched a tree fall towards our living room and I hustled him out the back door,” said Elizabeth Nelson, mother of the family. “It finally crashed against the roof and broke through our living room ceiling.  That more damage hadn’t been done is a blessing.  By the time the storm was over and power was restored a total of three giant trees were either blown down or completely uprooted in our yard.”

The insurance company had only helped with the partial removal of one tree that fell through the ceiling of their living room. The rest was left up to the father, who had to manage his time between taking care of his family and chipping away at nearly 100 feet worth of fully-mature trees.

This was a job that could’ve easily taken a year for him to complete on his own, said Schlack.

Schlack, a father of four, could relate to the challenges of keeping up with a household; one of his crew members also has an autistic son and was touched by their story. They knew they had to help. Schlack wrote the neighbor a touching letter to ask if he could bring his tools and his skillsets to help the family cut and remove the trees. With much gratitude, they agreed.

When he announced his Friday afternoon plans to his crew, a room full of men eagerly rose their hands to volunteer alongside him. So, that afternoon more than a dozen lineman showed up with their chainsaws and big hearts to cut and haul away the trees, knowing this is just one of the difficulties this family faces each day.

Schlack said because of the incredible skillset of the crew and their ability to work together so cohesively, they were able to completely remove the trees and clean up all of the debris within a few hours. If it were a smaller crew, it would’ve taken at least an entire day to complete. If it were just the father on his own, it could have easily taken a year.

The family and neighbors shared their gratitude with tears of relief and heartfelt letters.

Schlack said that he and his crew were just happy that they could help.

“This group of men wanted no payment and brushed aside my thanks with a ‘no problem, happy to help!’  After working a long day at a physical job they got in their cars to do it all over again for free for a stranger. And make no mistake, even with their skills, strength and abilities it is a difficult and dangerous job,” said Nelson. “I cannot repay their generosity.  I wish I could.  I can only pray that the universe gives them the good karma they deserve, and tell others what they have done for our family.”