Jefferson Award Winner Assists Neighbors With RecyclingBy Sharon Chin

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) He’s a good friend to hundreds of senior citizens in South San Jose, helping them get rid of what’s too toxic to trash. Neighbors call this week’s Jefferson Award winner a “saint” and a “national treasure.” But Charley Stephanski says he just likes to make people smile.

Charles Stephanski – or Charley – is the man neighbors call on when they need to properly dispose of hazardous household products.

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“There are so many people in our community who have no knowledge of how to or even to do it,” Stephanski explained.

The 77-year-old collects batteries and other items from hundreds of senior citizens, more than half of them widows, who live in the Millpond Mobile Home Park in San Jose.

He loads up everything from fluorescent light bulbs to paint cans and pressurized containers, which can leak toxic chemicals if they’re dumped in landfills.  He drops off truckloads to the Household Hazardous Waste center.

He started his free collection and drop-off trips about 10 years ago.. when his wife, Pauline, was still alive. They learned it wasn’t safe to throw out mercury-containing fluorescent lights in the trash.

Today, the retired US Navy steam engineer educates families on correct disposal methods, like how to tape recycled 9-volt batteries to keep them from short-circuiting and catching fire.

And recycling is just one of the many good things that Stephanski is doing for his neighborhood.

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Carol Able and her husband have known him for years.

“He’d do anything to help anybody,” Able said,

Neighbor Liz Kelly says despite arthritis and other health problems, he still assists in minor home repairs and emergencies.

“We had a neighbor who got stuck under his house and here came Charley with a saw to make a hole on the side of the mobile home so he could get out,” Kelly recalled. “Who does that?”

“I get a rush helping people like that,” Stephanski said.

And Stephanski and his wife created an annual Memorial Day celebration for their senior community a decade ago that recognizes veterans by name.

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So for his free hazardous waste disposal trips and selfless service, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Charles Stephanski.