Neighborhood mailbox repair for HVMS girls

Maddie, Elise stay busy, despite COVID-19, with repair biz in Hardin Valley’s Brighton Farms

  • Brighton Farms neighbors and long-time friends Maddie Hillis, left, and Elise Legault, HVMS students, pose with an “under construction” mailbox they are refurbishing for a fellow homeowner. - Michelle Hollenhead

  • A finished mailbox. - Michelle Hollenhead

Two Hardin Valley teens have created a thriving business in a field that might seem unusual, but has been very welcomed by their neighbors.

Maddie Hillis, a rising eighth-grader at Hardin Valley Middle School, and Elise Legault, who will be a Hardin Valley Academy freshman this fall, have been very busy during the COVOD-19 shutdown, making repairs and upgrades to mailboxes in their Brighton Farms neighborhood.

The development, which was started in phases in 1992, has mailboxes featuring the same color green post and burnished copper box covering. Elise’s father, Pierre Legault, who is on the neighborhood’s Homeowner’s Association Board, suggested she might consider refurbishing the mailboxes, many of which had been weathered or were otherwise in disrepair.

“The HOA does pay for paint, but that’s all,” Pierre said.

That suggestion led to the project initially being a fundraiser for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital earlier this year, but has since evolved into a steady business for Elise and Maddie, who have been long-time friends and school mates, as well as cross country runners.

“We did it through the National Junior Honor Society, and the proceeds went to ETCH, but then I thought it might be good to do as a business,” Elise said.

Pierre helped tutor the girls on the use of power tools, post-digging, sanding and painting, and they learned quickly, estimating they have refurbished or rebuilt 25 mailboxes so far.

While they have mastered much of the techniques, as a matter of safety Pierre still does cut the replacement wood.

They steadily built a clientele through word of mouth and the neighborhood Facebook page, as residents saw the results. Dingy copper siding has been sanded and made new, while weathered or rotting posts have been repainted or replaced altogether.

They have a work wagon they use for the jobs, filled with necessary tools, which they also use to transport mailboxes and wood back and forth from Elise’s home to the different worksites.

“They refurbished our mailbox like champs,” said one of their happy clients, Lisa Clapp, who contacted farragutpress with the news of their burgeoning business. “They are kind, polite and professional. Catch them pulling their wagon on a street near you.”

Juli Begley said, “They did a great job on ours also.”

Yet another neighbor, Kenny Smith, thanked them for the work, adding, “Ours looks great. True entrepreneurs.”

At first, the girls set their prices low, but after realizing how much time it could take, and receiving residents’ feedback that maybe they should charge a bit more, they arrived at their current pricing structure, which begins at $40 and goes up.

Both girls are pleased they are able to make their own spending money while providing a much-needed service.

“I’m 14 and Maddie is 13,” said Elise, who counts her mother, Eileen Legault, among their biggest fans. “We can’t hold jobs yet, so it’s nice we can earn money this way.”

“I’m happy we have had something productive to do, and it’s nice knowing we have those skills for later in life,” Maddie added.

The girls may be contacted either through Pierre’s cell phone, 865-407-9425, or Facebook, and both said they are willing to give estimates on mailboxes outside of their neighborhood.