Dana Thornton-Colwell didn’t have to journey far to discover she wanted to clean senior citizens’ homes for free.
After her mom encountered health issues a few years back, Thornton-Colwell pitched in to help around her parents’ Tuscola County home.
“I like helping seniors now; that’s my big thing,” said Thornton-Colwell, 50, of Vassar, who started the Classic Cleaning Foundation this year to clean and organize senior citizens’ homes at no cost.
“During my mom’s situation, I was living with them after she had a stroke, because I was the only one that was not married. I moved back home to help.”
Thornton-Colwell owns a business, Classic Cleaning & Organizing. She said she woke up one morning in March of this year, “and I thought ‘I need to help seniors,’ and form the foundation, so that’s how I came up with it.”
Several months later, after consulting a lawyer, the Classic Cleaning Foundation came into existence. This week Thornton-Colwell finished her fourth job for senior citizens on behalf of the foundation, cleaning a home in Tuscola Township owned by Larry and Audrey Palmreuter.
Senior citizens inquiring about receiving free cleaning services through the Classic Cleaning Foundation may call Thornton-Colwell at 810-701-6333.
“There’s not a bill if they’re a senior citizen,” Thornton-Colwell said. “Some of them will offer donations. If somebody gives furniture and says ‘I need to pay you or do something,’ I’ll say ‘You just gave me some furniture. Consider that your payment.’”
Thornton-Colwell said she doesn’t expect any donation, though, when cleaning a senior citizen’s home on behalf of the foundation.
“I’m trying to help out,” she said. “It’s sort of like the Amish. They help each other. When somebody needs a barn raised, they get together and they help that person. That’s the way the world should be.
“This is my part in helping senior citizens who have already worked all their lives and they pay out so much in prescription costs and everything else. This might help them possibly stay in their homes longer.”
The foundation hasn’t applied for grants yet, but that’s a possibility, according to Thornton-Colwell.
“I didn’t know all the aspects of a nonprofit when I started it,” she said.
Anyone wishing to donate funds, or furniture, to the foundation, may visit the “Classic Cleaning And Organizing, Org” Facebook page. Donors also can visit www.ClassicCleaningAndOrganizing.org.
Thornton-Colwell and her parents, Donald and Bonnie Thornton, live in Vassar.
“People can donate to the foundation, though a lot of people – if they’re doing move-out cleaning and have furniture left – will donate the furniture,” Thornton-Colwell said. “I’ll redo the furniture, and sell it, and those proceeds go to the foundation.”
Thornton-Colwell, a 1988 Vassar High School graduate, has been cleaning homes and businesses since 1999.
“I was an insurance agent, and every time I went in somebody’s house, I just wanted to clean,” she said. “So I figured I was in the wrong profession.”
Classic Cleaning & Organizing consists of Thornton-Colwell and six employees. Employee Jaden Allard, 16, a Caro High School student, helped clean the Palmreuter farmhouse – built in 1903 – on Thursday.
“Jaden’s a natural cleaner, so you don’t really have to teach her a lot,” Thornton-Colwell said. “It takes an eye for detail, and knowing that when you walk in a room, you have to start at the top – the ceiling – and work your way down.
“That’s the biggest mistake some cleaners make; they start in the middle. They’ll start at the counter level and then go to clean the cupboards above the counter, and there’s dust or something, and it falls back down on the counter.”
She used a mixture of vinegar and water to clean the plethora of wooden cupboards and cabinets – some recessed into walls – inside the Palmreuter farmhouse.
“I put a little bit of Fabuloso (household cleaner) in the water when I was doing the carpet cleaning,” Thornton-Colwell said. “But usually it’s vinegar and water for other surfaces; that’s my biggest thing. It’s the most natural combination.”
Thornton-Colwell said “organizing is my specialty,” noting it’s a skill learned from her parents.
“My mom and my dad are both very, very orderly,” she said. “Everything is in its place.”
Classic Cleaning & Organizing has grown to include six employees, plus Thornton-Colwell, who hauls cleaning supplies to and from jobs in a navy blue Buick LeSabre.
“I don’t drive the nice fancy car because I don’t want one,” she said. “My dad worked at Buick and helped build the 3800 engine that’s in that car. I love that car.”
As of Friday, Thornton-Colwell began requiring all workers to wear protective masks on cleaning jobs to battle the spread of COVID-19. Workers’ temperatures will be checked every few hours.
Thornton-Colwell’s 21-year career as a cleaner has seen her encounter other challenges – such as cleaning the 200,000-square-foot Ottawa Towers office building in Pontiac.
One job required removal of an enormous amount of clutter from a spare room.
“I had a lot of stuff to pick up, and it was 95 degrees out and there was no air conditioning in the house, and I was upstairs with no fans,” she said.
If necessary, Thornton-Colwell can don a “hazmat” suit to protect against hazardous materials on a cleaning job.
“There have been some bad ones, like the hoarders’ houses,” she said. “They’re my favorite, but some of them are bad. There was one down in Linden that we went into; the mother was in prison, I believe, but she had been a methamphetamine dealer and I was still finding drug paraphernalia in the home where her two (teenage) daughters were living with the grandmother.
“I had to call (child protective services) workers. There was a butcher knife inside the couch.”
Thornton-Colwell or her employees also do outdoor chores, including lawn or garden work.
“I love shoveling, and I love mowing lawn,” she said. “Push-mowing makes your lawn look the best. My dad taught me. My dad’s yard looks like a golf course.”
Sometimes, Thornton-Colwell or her employees simply socialize with senior citizens.
“We’ll even go just if they need someone to talk to,” Thornton-Colwell said. “Some of them don’t have family members who come see them.”
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.