By Sherry Wise
Two local non-profits recently pooled their resources to improve the almost unlivable home of a Front Royal family in need. Theirs was an all-too-familiar story. He had been laid off due to injury from a job in a small engine repair shop three years earlier but not injured badly enough for disability. She had recently lost her job as the director of a day care center. They have a 9 year old son. Although she had since found a part-time job in her field, they were struggling to keep their home and had no resources to make the necessary repairs to keep it livable.
Recently, Help With Housing, Inc. and Gainesville United Methodist Church joined forces to make the necessary repairs. Help With Housing, Inc. (HWH) is a local non-profit based in Berryville, VA with a mission to repair homes so that they are warm, safe, dry and accessible for their low income owners. Paula Costello, Executive Director of HWH, said that this family had been on their waiting list for quite awhile because the requirements for repair were just too costly. There are currently over 60 families on HWH’s waiting list. Sadly, just as more government funding is drying up, the need for help is increasing. She said that with more collaboration of this sort, we could do more.
Andy Greis, of the Gainesville United Methodist Church in Gainesville, VA said that their church has a history of mission trips providing labor and materials for building repair to those in need in major disaster areas. While supervising a similar project in Winchester, VA with the church’s youth program, he realized the need was just as great right here as in some of the disaster areas they had been traveling to. It was during that project that he met and offered their services to HWH. The church was able to offer $5,000 plus free labor and necessary tools. Whereas a typical project for the church involved travel and meal expenses, they were able to avoid these costs. Their congregation came together and organized hot meals for the workers during the week they were on the job. Mr. Greis said they gave a week of their time, which was typical, and then returned for several weekends to finish the job. Whereas typically they have a crew of 15 people on these missions, there were close to 50 volunteers (on and off) for the Front Royal project.
The repairs were extensive and coordinated through Chris Graham, Project Manager for HWH. He said they included new siding, roof, electric service, and a new front door as well as a safety wall at the second floor landing. They completely re-wired and dry walled the front room as well as provided a new washer and dryer hook-up. A plumbing leak and hole in the kitchen ceiling were also repaired. “This was a real win-win project for everyone,” Mr. Graham said. “We would like to do more of this sort of thing.”
The homeowner, who helped as much as possible, said that at one point, she couldn’t pull in her driveway because there were so many volunteer workers there. She was so overwhelmed with gratitude that she just sat in her car and cried.
Help With Housing, Inc. was formed in 1988 when several members of the Clarke County community realized that there were many neighbors who could not afford necessary repairs to their homes and were in danger of becoming homeless. They thought if these people could be helped with basic repairs, they could remain in their homes and not become an even greater burden to the community. This concept is still working today. What started out as a small non-profit serving only Clarke County now also serves Warren, Shenandoah, Page, and Frederick counties as well as the City of Winchester. They now help an average of 75 families yearly in these areas. Anyone interested in helping these organizations may call Help With Housing at (540) 955-1706 or the Gainesville United Methodist Church at (703) 754-4511.