Family reaches out to residents shamed online

Tribune Chronicle / Renee Fox
Donovan Brown, 9, and A.J. Jenyk, 9, helped their parents clean up a lawn Saturday on Ann Avenue in Niles.

Tribune Chronicle / Renee Fox Donovan Brown, 9, and A.J. Jenyk, 9, helped their parents clean up a lawn Saturday on Ann Avenue in Niles.

NILES — When someone started posting pictures of lawns and houses online and shaming the residents for high grass, weeds and other things over the last few weeks, one married couple decided it made more sense to offer a helping hand than to complain from behind a screen.

Adam Jenyk and Chaelsie “Jette Jenyk” Adkins put the word out they were seeking volunteers to help and compiled a list of seven or eight people who needed help caring for their lawns.

On Friday and Saturday, the Warren couple went out with their son, A.J. Jenyk, 9, and some other volunteers and got to work after getting support from Niles Mayor Tom Scarnecchia.

On Saturday, though the overcast day promised rain, they made a stop on Ann Avenue, along with Mel Brown and her two grandkids, Donovan and Taylor Brown, both 9, and Stephanie Preston, all of Niles.

Pulling out weeds and picking up trash, Jenyk said it doesn’t matter to him what the circumstances are that kept the residents from getting to it themselves.

“You could be making $10,000 a year or $200,000 a year, that doesn’t matter. Sometimes we all need some help and getting out there and actually doing something to help makes a lot more sense than complaining about it online,” Jenyk said.

The posts appeared on several Niles community pages on Facebook, showing the homes along with comments denigrating the residents as lazy.

Adkins said some of the people being bullied online have extenuating circumstances in their lives. One family has a child with special needs, another is a disabled veteran, and another is a stroke victim. And, Adkins said, others work long hours and don’t have the cash to pay for a lawn service or are getting older and are too ashamed to ask for help they can’t afford.

Sometimes the reason lawn care takes a back burner is an even more personal reason, Adkins said.

“To call someone lazy, without knowing their story is unreasonable. They say perception is reality, but in reality people have lives that are more complicated than that. Depression and mental illness can be just as debilitating as a physical ailment and it is a valid reason for why something might not get done,” Adkins said.

And, said Mel Brown, with the ongoing heroin epidemic, many families are struggling to raise their grandkids and don’t have the resources.

“There are plenty of legitimate reasons why someone might be holed up in their house. And to assume it is because they are lazy isn’t right, isn’t neighborly and isn’t fair,” Brown said.

Jenyk and Adkins said when they volunteered to help out, they never thought they too would become the targets of a cyber bully online.

“It was demoralizing,” Adkins said.

The same man and his friends begin harassing them and accusing them of having a nefarious reason to offer their free services, in an attempt to damage their reputation for speaking out against his methods, Jenyk and Adkins said.

Adkins said even her son understands why it is wrong to be a bully.

“Regardless of someone’s circumstances, we teach our son, you don’t judge people. You do the right thing and you stand up to bullies,” Adkins said.

Scarnecchia said he was happy to welcome the volunteers into Niles.

“It is a very charitable and generous thing to do. Some people aren’t in the situation to do it for themselves and that is what community is all about, coming together in those circumstances,” Scarnecchia said.

Tami Lee Guzaliak Sankey said she was the victim of a similar crusade against her a few years ago — the result of a neighbor dispute about property lines and drainage from three years ago that led to frivolous calls to the county and city, yelling matches and negative, mean comments online. The same man got involved.

When she came to the defense of someone shamed recently on the Facebook page, she couldn’t help but offer a few words of support to the target. Her comment turned the negative attention back to her, but she is more prepared to handle it now, Sankey said.

“I feel absolutely sick to my stomach for these people. I feel horrible because I know the level of anxiety and stress that comes with being bullied,” Sankey said. “It consumes your whole day and life. It’s hard to think about anything else.”

The saddest thing about the online bullying, Jenyk, Adkins and Brown said, is it deterred some others from accepting their help.

“They didn’t want to become his next victim,” Adkins said.