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Group helps military families tend the greens

Talking to Joy Westenberg, you get a sense of just how much she enjoys her job.

"It is the most rewarding," she said, "when I get to go home and cheer because I matched up two families and providers that day."

Westenberg, who works from her office in New Prague, Minn., is the full-time director of the Green Care for Troops program through Project Evergreen.

Green Care for Troops started in the spring of 2006 when Den Gardner, executive director of Project Evergreen decided the organization could help families of deployed soldiers.

Gardner set up Green Care for Troops so that lawns could be mowed, flowers planted, hedges trimmed and weeds pulled.

Those small gestures help relieve one of the many pressures faced by military families to keep up with household needs while their soldiers are away.

To date, Westenberg said, the organization has 4,000 families all over the country who have applied for the service and only 1,000 volunteers.

Volunteers are needed, from church and community organizations to landscaping professionals and businesses, to help.

"We have a lot of families in Cottage Grove who need help ... but we need the volunteers," Westenberg said.

When a family applies for lawn care help through Green Care for Troops, their information is kept confidential, Westenberg said.

She said if a match can be made between a volunteer and a family, the family is given all the information for the volunteer and initiates contact.

So many families have applied for the service that there is a waiting list for help.

"We can't guarantee the service because it depends on the number of volunteers we have," she said. "If we don't have volunteers, I get landscaping professionals or I try to recruit teams of volunteers."

That's where church groups and community organizations can make a big difference in someone's lives, Westenberg said.

"We can use Scouts, church groups, Realtors, retired military, just citizens who are stepping up to the plate and say I want to help," Westenberg said.

And the chore at the top of the list from families requesting help? Mowing the lawn, Westenberg said.

"How simple is that?" she asked. "Once or twice a month, go out there and mow the lawn and make a huge difference for a military family."

Politics absolutely don't play into the Green Care for Troops effort, Westenberg said.

"It doesn't matter what your political view is on the war," she said. "These are people here who need help. It's people helping people."

For information, check out the Green Care for Troops Web site at or e-mail Westenberg at