Restoring homes and saving families
By J. Chambless
Teens install new siding on the Blevins home in West Grove as part of the Good Neighbors Youth Camp.
By John Chambless
Standing outside the double-wide mobile
home in West Grove that shelters her parents, her four children and
herself, Jessica Blevins paused for a second to try to put this week
“I have to say that Good Neighbors is a tremendous blessing,” she said. “It's a Godsend. It really is.”
While the organization does not
evangelize, or even require that families they help be part of any
particular religion, the teens will explain that they are helping
because of their faith. If the homeowners want to learn more or join
in prayer, that's fine. If not, that's fine too. The work campers end
each day back at Avondale Presbyterian Church, which supplies
showers, meals and a place to sleep. There are meetings every
evening, and a prayer journal for each teen to keep. Wearing work gloves and helping out as
about a dozen teens and adults cut wood and hammered siding and
wrangled new windows into place in the home, Jessica credited Good
Neighbors with being a bright light in the midst of a very dark
The Kennett Square-based organization helps low-income families who need home repairs all year long, but the third week of July is Youth Camp, when teens from area church youth groups sign up as volunteer labor for a blitz of home fixing. This week, three homes – in West Grove, Oxford and Landenberg – were the focus of intense rehabilitations that will leave three families, at the end of the week, with dry, safe places to live. For Good Neighbors, the week is part of a faith-based mission to serve others.
Rob Ellis, who has sort of stepped down as the Executive Director of Good Neighbors, was nevertheless taking visitors to each work site this week, as a way of spreading the word about an organization that puts 85 percent of its funding dollars directly into the supplies and labor for fixing up homes. There's not a lot of overhead, which has allowed the organization to grow to a point where about 120 homes in the area were repaired last year. The annual budget is about $444,000, Ellis said. Funding comes from companies and private donations, and has increased every year, even through the economic downturn. “The need is significant,” he said. “The economy has been no friend to low-income families.”
Replacing Ellis as Executive Director is Harold Naylor, who is the man who hired Ellis six years ago, so Ellis said the organization is in great hands. “The timing was right for Harold to come,” said Ellis, who is stepping aside to devote more time to his family. “He's eager and ready to go.”
The idea of Good Neighbors doesn't have a downside. Professionals who know how to do complex home repairs – wiring or plumbing, for instance – are paid only when they're actually working on a home. Many volunteer their hours. The students who come for Youth Camp work for free, learn about giving back to the community, and supply the kind of muscle needed for simpler projects – roofing, or siding, or installing windows.
The families who receive help are met halfway in the renovation process, Ellis said. “We ask them, 'What are your skills and how can we help you get this job done?'” he said. “We don't come in like we're the experts giving them all this, and we know everything. We work alongside them.”
At the work site in West Grove, Jessica's 6-year-old son, Logan, scurried around the yard as the official finder of trash, tossing bits into a barrel. Teens worked under the supervision of project managers and other adults who explained what to do, but then stepped back and let the workers learn.
Jessica said her parents, Mike and Martha Blevins, had tried to keep up with the renovations. “He got a price for a new roof, and it was something like between $5,000 and $10,000,” Jessica said. “The worst place for the leaks was the cabinet in the kitchen. My dad had put a tinfoil roasting pan up there to catch the water.”
Good Neighbors put on a new roof for free in May, and told the family they'd be back in July for the rest of the work – insulation, windows, new siding, ceiling repairs, and a completely new master bedroom and bath. At the end of the first day on Monday, the windows were in, the siding was started and the master bedroom had new studs and a tub ready to be moved into place.
Standing in the living room, Mike said he was a little overwhelmed by all the activity. “It's hard to say how I feel about today,” he said as workers came and went from the front door. “I'm thrilled to death, of course.”
Mike, 56, explained how he drove a bus for 17 years, but issues with his back and shoulders have forced him to stop work. Facing more surgeries, he is in constant pain and cannot drive a bus anymore. His wife, Martha, works, but the home they bought used in 2003 was showing its age. He tried to keep up with the work, but was physically unable.
With nowhere else to go, Jessica and her children have been sharing the cramped quarters. She has to be home to care for them, particularly Isaiah, 12, who has multiple health issues.
“It's like I tell everybody – life just kind of hit us,” she said, citing her separation from her husband, the high rents in Chester County, and the mountain of medical bills for Isaiah, including the results of a congenital heart defect, and the possibility of a heart and liver transplant. “It just hit us all at once. But you know, you do what you've gotta do,” she said with a sigh.
She credits the family's church home – Nottingham Missionary Baptist Church – with being “an amazing support system for us,” she said. “Isaiah has a lot of prayers going out for him, that's for sure. Without God, I wouldn't be able to function properly. I told a friend that I'll never say I don't know how much more I can handle, because I might find out.”
For more information, visit www.GoodNeighborsHomeRepair.org, or call 610-444-1860.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email email@example.com.