Hearts and homes were warmed Friday and Saturday during the fourth year of Project Weatherization and Repair Ministry of Grace United Methodist Church.
Project Vision of the Aiken County United Way supplied the funding.
Volunteers spent most of two days working in sometimes freezing temperatures replacing rotten wood and drywall, painting, repairing roofs, adding insulation and replacing broken windows to seven homes in the area.
“We have done some plumbing work,” said the Rev. Jim Dennis, senior minister of Grace United Methodist and the person responsible for bringing Project W.A.R.M. to the North Augusta church. “Our goal is to keep the homes warm and dry, so we try to stay within the limits of what is necessary to do that. Of course, we are a ministry, so we have devotions and try to minister to spiritual needs as well.”
Project W.A.R.M. is a spin-off of the Salkehatchie Project, a United Methodist Church summer home repair service done mostly by youths. Project W.A.R.M. was begun at Wightman United Methodist Church in Prosperity in December 2007, and was conceived by two college students who didn’t want to wait until summer to do something for the less fortunate.
The idea spread quickly to other United Methodist churches throughout the state.
Dennis said he wanted to bring the project to Grace United Methodist because he wanted to get the congregation – especially the young people – involved in hands-on experiences. Last year, they brought in Salkehatchie for the first time.
“About 20 percent of our W.A.R.M. volunteers are college students still home on winter break,” said Dennis. “However, along with skilled site leaders, we have volunteers from all walks of life – insurance adjusters, salesmen, lawyers, doctors, dentists. Being located near the Savannah River Site, naturally we have lots of engineers.”
He added that many of the women do the same work as the men.
“Some of them are perhaps better at some jobs, such as painting and drywall,” he said with a grin.
This year, there were more than 100 volunteers, but there have been as many as 150 repairing up to 12 houses. To date, W.A.R.M. has served 37 homeowners.
Clemson University freshman Adam Parler said, “I love helping the community. It’s a great feeling knowing that you have made something better for someone who didn’t have the means to do for themselves. But I also like to build and repair things. I like learning useful skills for the future. But the best part is I get to bring my friends along and we can work and be together at the same time.”
Dennis said Grace United has expanded the program in several ways.
First, they added a team of yard workers to visit each site and clean up debris, trim bushes and rake. Then, Wightman designed the project to be done every year between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Grace United does theirs to suit everyone’s schedule.
“We also expanded ours in another way,” he said. “Wightman’s design was to encourage everyone to give smaller Christmas gifts and put the extra money towards materials for the project. We partner with United Way for the materials. We do the labor and they provide the materials, with one exception this year, a member of our church.”
Eddie Wilson, Project W.A.R.M. director, said the first year of the partnership United Way had people who had been waiting six years to get work done. United Way didn’t have the additional funding to pay people to do the work.
“This year, we have all elderly widows,” he said. “Some have grandchildren and disabled people they’re taking care of. That’s not always the case. We’ve helped all ages and helped couples. If something happens and United Way can no longer fund the project, we’ll find a way to keep it going. We might have to limit it, but we just see the need out there. I’d like to encourage other churches to participate.”
Tammy Davis, director of Community Investment/Project Vision, said the six clients served by this partnership are the first of the year.
“We serve 100 families a year – senior citizens, low-income people, some with disabilities – through a variety of partners like Grace United Methodist. These people receive general maintenance, yard work, landscaping, wheel chair ramps, light plumbing and so forth. All these services are provided by volunteers. No one is paid except the director. Volunteers are the heart of this program.”
Sharon Rogers, president of United Way of Aiken County, added, “United Way is so very grateful for community partners like Grace United Methodist who help these homeowners to be able to stay in their homes. Without these wonderful volunteers, we wouldn’t have this Project Vision initiative in Aiken County. Due to the generosity of churches, businesses and industries who give their time and talent, we are able to keep it going. It’s a win-win situation.”
Davis and Rogers said those who are interested in becoming partners or need an application for help can call (803) 648-8331.