Volunteers help repair the house of Anne Glancey in the Crosswicks section of Hamilton.
Volunteers help repair the house of Anne Glancey in the Crosswicks section of Hamilton.

It was no accident that state trooper Adam Polhemus and his wife Kristin spearheaded a volunteer cleanup to save neighbor Anne Glancey’s house in the Crosswicks neighborhood.

Spurred on by the Hamilton municipal government, Glancey needed to remove her old car from township land, clean up her overgrown lawn, and scrape and paint her house. If she failed to complete the work by the town’s deadline, she could be fined as much as $1,000 a day per violation.

The violation letter to Glancey was issued as part of Hamilton’s Neighborhood Improvement Program, whose purpose, according to the town website, is “to identify various violations that impact citizens’ safety or quality of life and to ultimately keep Hamilton looking its best.”

The mostly reclusive Glancey, a former French teacher at Northern Burlington County Regional High School, always had trusted Polhemus because her father had served in the military, and she respected people in uniforms and law enforcement. But whenever Polhemus offered to help her out with one thing or another, he says, “every time she would change the subject and tell us she was taking care of it.”

As time passed, it became evident that that wasn’t really the case. The couple realized something was seriously wrong when Glancey brought them the violation letter.

Polhemus reassured her that he would help. The volunteer effort he launched to help Glancey clean things up likely grew out of the example set by his parents, both teachers. In fact, several times his parents fed and housed people who were down on their luck or had lost their own home.

“I witnessed them always helping people,” Polhemus said. “My dad and mom were always quick to help a neighbor or individual at church, if they needed any kind of assistance, whether financial or help around the house.”

How Anne Glancey’s house appeared before the repairs. Its condition drew the attention of Hamilton Township inspectors, who threatened to levy hefty fines if Glancey did not clean up the property.
How Anne Glancey’s house appeared before the repairs. Its condition drew the attention of Hamilton Township inspectors, who threatened to levy hefty fines if Glancey did not clean up the property.

The first step in helping Glancey was to get rid of her 1984 Plymouth, which actually sat on town property. Polhemus and Kristin handled it themselves, arranging a donation to the Purple Heart Foundation.

“This should be happening all over all the time, where neighbors help each other and know each other, and people take care of one another”

Then, they cleaned up the yard with the help of friends from 217 Church in Robbinsville and neighbors, whose numbers expanded across the weekend dedicated to the task. They cut down dead tree limbs as well as some very large trees, and weeded and mowed the lawn.

But Polhemus needed a large group to tackle the peeling paint. He turned to Facebook and also got help from a ministry at his church, Helping Hands. Travis Biggs, franchisee of the Chick-fil-A at Hamilton Marketplace, offered free meals to volunteers.

“We had about 20 people RSVP that they were interested in helping,” Polhemus said, “and it kind of spiraled from there.”

It took a total of six days to complete the paint jobs, two days to scrape, two days to prime and two days to paint, “plus a little extra,” with people working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The most far-flung volunteer drove from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“It was an all-in approach to do something for someone else,” Polhemus said.

Also volunteering were several counselors from American Legion New Jersey Boy’s State, where Polhemus participated as a high school junior and continues to volunteer as a counselor.

Polhemus graduated with a teaching degree from Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where he was part of the student government. Deciding to pursue policing rather than teaching, he began his career as a seasonal officer in Seaside Heights, and then attended the Ocean County Police Academy. At the same time he was undergoing testing to join the state police, and after three months was accepted for a 26-week training program at the New Jersey State Police Academy in Sea Girt. Graduating and becoming a trooper he calls “one of the proudest accomplishments of my life.”

Beginning his career as a field-training officer, Polhemus is now part of the drug unit at the New Jersey State Police’s Regional Operations and Intelligence Center; it handles the health and criminal consequences of drug use. He is currently working on an initiative exploring the heroin and opioid pill epidemic in New Jersey.

Glancey with her restored home.
Glancey with her restored home.

Avoiding the fines was of course important for Glancey, but more critical were the changes she underwent through the entire process.

“She is so much more outgoing,” Polhemus said. “You could see the happiness when we said, ‘Anne, we’re done.’ She looked at her home and said, ‘It’s never looked this beautiful.’”

A friend of a friend who saw a Facebook posting from Kristin had a relative at People.com, and got the writer interested in the cleanup. When the reporter reached out to the Polhemuses, their first response to her was surprise.

“How is this a story?” they asked.

But the tale of neighbors rallying to help another continued to spread last month. It was picked up by media across the world, appearing on websites in languages like Slovak and German. It earned a mention on Good Morning America, as well as in newcasts across the region. The Polhemuses had struck a nerve.

Still, weeks later, they don’t understand quite why that is. It shouldn’t be news, Polhemus said, that people have lent a helping hand to someone in need. His hope is that their story pushes the world just a bit in that direction.

“This should be happening all over all the time, where neighbors help each other and know each other, and people take care of one another,” Polhemus said.