Ministry offers free home repair to those in need
By Bill Petzold
VASSAR — For the past decade, an ecumenical youth group in Vassar has taken part in Reach Workcamps around the country.
Next year, they’re bringing the effort home — and they’re bringing as many as 700 volunteers with them.
Founded in 1992, Reach Workcamps (reachwc.com) are week-long volunteer service efforts to help families in need with repairs around the house free of charge to the families. This year, a youth group comprised of high school students and adults from Vassar’s First Presbyterian and First United Methodist churches are heading to Oliver Springs, Tennessee to take part in the program.
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“Reach is its own organization, and every year they establish sites for people to come from all over the nation and descend on their sites and do rehab work,” First Presbyterian pastor Doug Abel said. “There will be two weeks where tons and tons of kids from all over the country will be staying at the school and going to different sites to rehab houses here in our area.”
Youth group leader Cheryl Childs has taken part in several workcamps, and is excited to see what the volunteers can accomplish in Tuscola County. She is traveling with the group to Oliver Springs this month to take part in a rehab effort there, one of nine workcamps planned for 2014
“We have kids that come from all over,” Childs said. “That school (in Oliver Springs) is doing what we’re going to be doing what we’re doing in 2015 — hosting a Reach Workcamp. The volunteers stay right at the school, sleep in the classrooms, eat in the cafeteria, and they are assigned a packet of instructions of what they’re supposed to do, and they go to that same house every day and work on that house until it’s done. We have refurbished homes, built handicap ramps and re-roofed houses to help families who can’t afford it.”
Childs said she was told that the project extends outside of the Vassar area — as far as a 30-mile radius, but that projects are chosen on a number of criteria including proximity to Vassar High School, which will house volunteers July 12-25, 2015.
The way Reach works is that interested families may pick up an application form from either the First Presbyterian Church (vassarfpc.org) or First United Methodist Church (vassarfirstumc.org). The application seeks information such as the number of adults and children living in the home, household income, prior military service, if any family members are disabled and the type of work the homeowner desires to have done free of charge: interior or exterior repair, step replacement, deck or porch building, wheelchair ramp installation, roofing, drywall work, flooring and other common rehab work. Anyone may apply for the program.
Applicants fill out the form and return it by the deadline, September 1, 2014 in this case. The churches collect the applications and send them to Reach, where applicants are selected based on need. Reach the national organization, not the local churches, make the final determination on where crews will be sent during the workcamp, and the local churches have no say in who is selected or denied. Reach then sends representatives out to videotape the selected sites, and the churches will make a plan for volunteers to visit every site in the time available.
Reach is able to provide free labor because the volunteers actually pay for their own room and board and expenses. Cost to attend the camp as a volunteer is $379 before November 1 or $399. The fee includes a $50 registration fee, the cost of accommodations, 16 meals from Sunday evening through Saturday morning, supplemental health insurance, materials to be used at the homeowner’s home, nightly activities, a person journal, a Workcamp T-shirt, custodians and kitchen staff at the camp location, beverages and ice every day at the worksite and at least one full-time Reach Workcamps staff member at every camp.
First United Methodist pastor Cathy Christman said that Reach director Paul Richardson visited Vassar in March and toured Vassar High School to be certain the building could host as many as 350 volunteers per week for two weeks. Childs said the school has been great in working with the youth group to bring the Reach Workcamp to Vassar.
Between now and then, organizers have been challenged to raise $7,500 per week of the workcamp, for a total of $15,000.
“The more we raise, the more houses we can fix,” Childs said, noting the group has already been raising funds through work at the Tuscola County Pumpkin Festival and at Vassar’s Pumpkin Roll and other events.
“We have committed donations already from the Masons and the Vassar Building Center, but if anybody wants to make a donation of any kind, that would help,” Christman said.
Both churches have Facebook pages, which the pastors suggested people follow to stay up-to-date with developments in the next few months. Those interested in applying for free rehabilitation work on their home may also contact the churches through their websites, Facebook pages or by calling the First Presbyterian Church at (989) 823-7671 or the First United Methodist Church at (989) 823-8811.