Giving Back

Mike Ruiz adds some landscaping to Capt. Michael Panzera’s home in Freehold, N.J.

If there is one thing this industry excels at, it’s giving back. I know there are many of you out there making a difference in your communities and helping those in need. For those of you who want to help someone, but aren’t sure how, start by cleaning up the landscape of an elderly neighbor, or mow the lawn for someone who has fallen on hard times. Any service—big or small—can make a difference in someone’s life.

One of the well-known programs in the green industry is Project EverGreen’s GreenCare for Troops, which puts landscapers and lawn care companies in touch with families whose major breadwinner is on active duty away from home to offer free services to maintain their green spaces.

Mike Ruiz, owner of Ruiz Lawn & Landscaping in Freehold, N.J., has taken it one step further. On May 16 (Armed Forces Day), Ruiz Lawn & Landscape spearheaded an effort to add some color and seasonal plants to Capt. Michael Panzera’s home in Freehold to surprise him when he returns home from Iraq this month. Capt. Panzera went in the service after the bombing of the World Trade Center, where he had been employed in the 1980s. This is his second time serving our country.

Capt. Panzera’s house before …… and after Project Welcome Home.

Mike had already been mowing Capt. Panzera’s property as part of GreenCare for Troops, and after developing a relationship with him through e-mail, he wanted to celebrate his commitment to protecting our country by sprucing up his home in Freehold, which had no landscaping on the property. As a way to show Capt. Panzera that he has not been forgotten, Mike formed Project Welcome Home to honor him. The project was a huge success due to numerous donations and the help of many volunteers—and, of course, due to Mike’s generosity and compassion. He began the project as a way of “helping this local hero come back to a warm welcome of thanks,” and became a local hero himself.

You can see photos from Project Welcome Home at

If you would like to team up with Project EverGreen and the GreenCare for Troops campaign, visit

Amy K. Hill