Metro-East News

July 3, 2014

'Mrs. Jones Project': Belleville teen leads effort by youth to help elderly woman

Eighty-five-year-old Margie Jones had tears in her eyes as she looked over her yard that just hours earlier had been overgrown with weeds.

Sixteen-year-old Will Berger and a group of friends worked to return Jones' yard in west Belleville to its former glory.

They didn't ask for anything in return.

Will, a junior at Freeburg High School, met Jones just a few days earlier when she called him at the recommendation of a friend to clear off the patio in the backyard of her home on Julia Place in Belleville. Will and his little sister, Elle, completed the work, for which she agreed to pay them $10 an hour. They declined to take the money.

But Will realized there was more work that needed to be done. That's when he had a brainstorm to launch the "Mrs. Jones Project."

Will decided to get a group of friends together to lend Jones a hand with her yard work. Will and friends often do small jobs through his business endeavor, Will 2 Work.

"I nearly fell over," Jones said when she saw all the cars pull up in front of her house. She knew Will was coming back Wednesday but had no idea he was bringing a "whole army" of workers with him.

"This has to be the most wonderful kid in the whole world," Jones said as she gave Will a hug. She calls him her honorary grandson.

Will thinks Jones is special, too. "She is just the sweetest person," he said. "I'm just glad I can help her. There's a special place in my heart for older people."

Jones described her front and back yards as "such a mess" until Will and his friends showed up.

Jones couldn't believe Will wouldn't take any money Saturday after he and his sister completed the work on her back patio.

"Just seeing the look on her face is the most satisfying thing you can have," Will said.

While watching the volunteers work diligently on her yard, Jones said, "it's kind of sad the place has gone to pot." It's just become too much for her to keep up with all the work to maintain the property.

However, she doesn't want to leave the place that's been her home for more than five decades, where she raised three children with her husband, Gaither.

Gaither Jones lives in a nursing home in Anna. The couple have six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

"It's just amazing this whole thing," Margie Jones said through tears. "It's really truly a blessing. My cup runneth over. I can't believe these people."

Elle was back at her brother's side Wednesday helping, too. "We just love Mrs. Jones," said Elle, 13, a student at Freeburg Middle School. "She's very nice, and she just needed some help. I'm happy I can brighten up someone's day."

Will and the group of friends he brought to help Jones all wore blue T-shirts with "Mrs. Jones Project" scrolled across the front. Why blue shirts? Because that is Jones' favorite color.

Volunteer Cooper Secker of Millstadt said he couldn't think of a better way to spend his 16th birthday Wednesday. "It seemed like a nice thing to do for a lady and the community," he said.

Noah Walls, 15, of Paderborn, said it's the least he could do to come out and help his friend Will and Mrs. Jones.

Will and his crew not only physically helped clean up the yard, but they donated flowers, mulch and potting soil.

"Look at that yard," Jones said with a smile on her face. "What a difference. It looks so much better."

Jones said she has heard about the "pay it forward" movement, where someone does something nice for a complete stranger. She and a group of friends were the recipients of such an action last year when a couple they didn't know paid their food bill at a Fairview Heights restaurant.

"We have been talking about it ever since," Jones said. "We were just open-mouthed just like I am today. I'm just overwhelmed."

Will's and Elle's mother, Nancy Berger of Belleville, couldn't be more pleased with her children. "I think it's a neat thing. I don't know how I got so lucky," she said. "It's an honor for us to be here to help."

Nancy Berger was working alongside her children and husband, Mark.

"It looks so lovely," Jones said. "I'm going to think of you all when I look out my kitchen window."

Will plans to continue his efforts and help other people like Jones and hope others will follow his lead.

"This hopefully will produce a ripple effect," he said. "I hope people other than me do this. I want this to be a movement."

Call Will Berger at 618-975-7441 or find his business page on Facebook.


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