My Rookie Year with Rebuilding Together

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What is all this about Rebuilding Together? Could I get involved? Why is Bethany UMC involved? Do we do it every year?

This year, I co-chaired Bethany’s 3rd Rebuilding Together project. My fellow co-chair, Mike Barnett, along with our volunteers, handled the actual hands-on work. I served as the liaison with the homeowner, with Rebuilding Together (RT) and with our fabulous Bethany volunteers.

First of all, what is Rebuilding Together? It’s a national non-pro fit that has a local Howard County chapter. Low-income homeowners apply to the local group. RT interviews the owners and surveys the projects. This year, seventeen homes were selected for Howard County volunteer groups to tackle.

For more information about RT, please see Their mission is ‘repairing homes, revitalizing neighborhoods, and rebuilding lives.’ From their web site: ‘We are committed to improving the lives of the elderly, individuals with disabilities, veterans, and families with children; all homeowners in Howard County who have worked hard, but can no longer afford to keep up with repairs.’

The missions committee at Bethany, of which I am a part, decided that a RT project synced with our focus area of housing security. To that end, Bethany contributed $3200 from the missions committee budget to the project. With that contribution and dedication to the project, work began.

In early March, we were supplied with photos of each of the 17 homes and the work proposed for each. Mike Barnett, with the help of Doug Vasalis, selected a townhome in Columbia. It seemed a good match for our skills and abilities but also challenged us a bit. After selection, the homeowner was contacted so we could meet her and take a good look at the project.

What needed done? Several interior doors needed replacement, plumbing repairs, drywall patching, tightening stair railings, replacing a vanity, as well as electrical updates. One large task was replacing a fence around part of the yard to meet Columbia Association’s requirements. The tasks were classified as safety, warmth, independence, cosmetic or deferred maintenance. After the initial walk-through, we created a ‘scope of work’ document for a clear understanding of the work we set out to accomplish.

RT supplied a thorough project manual, as well as a volunteer registration process and a safety presentation. Their staff were responsive to our questions and needs, supplying tee shirts for every volunteer. When projects were large and complicated, like replacing a huge sliding door and resurfacing bathtubs, RT employed local contractors.

After the scope of work was completed, it was time to order materials and recruit volunteers. The townhouse was fairly small with much of the work on the ground floor, so we knew we couldn’t accommodate too many people at once. Thanks to you, recruiting volunteers wasn’t a problem. Yay Bethany! Let’s celebrate our congregation’s willingness to help people in need. And many of the volunteers are fairly new to Bethany. Another celebration!

Next time you see one of our Rebuilding Together volunteers, please give them a high five and an atta-boy: Dawn Brooks-Tharps, Judy & Mike Barnett, Jan & Doug Vasilas, Doug Oberholzer, Doug Rowe, Sandy Ugol, Jeff Hansel, Tracey & Chris Hoffman, Don Hibbard, Ken Pavao, Mark Winter, Larry Steenhoek, Ellen Prucha, Leif Olson and Charlie, Brady & Zach Harris. What a team!

The ordering of supplies was handled by Mike and Doug. RT supplied generic items; Mike and Doug purchased things needed for our specific job. Doug Vasalis gets kudos for sticking with the door replacement project. And Mike championed the fence project, figuring out just how to do it correctly. Meanwhile I lined up lunch (thanks to Jan Vasilas), and communicated our plan to our fantastic team of volunteers.

Ok, volunteers – check. Supplies – check. Lunch – check. Weather – oh wait, it’s supposed to rain! No, it’s never rained out a RT day since its inception in 1992. Well, it rained hard on Friday, then just a mist Saturday morning, then more rain on Sunday. We lucked out, for sure, or God was directing those rain clouds. We did postpone the fence work until the next Saturday, just to be safe on the wet ground.

On National Build Day, April 29, we gathered at 8am. We met our homeowner, Gabby, and her brother Andre. Pastor Dawn came to bless our gathering and lend a hand. Mike had assigned each volunteer to a team, so everyone knew what to do and what tools to bring. After a cup of coffee and a prayer, we started work. It was cool to know that similar work was happening all over the county and the country. RT’s staff, board members and photographers stopped in during the day to be sure all was going well.

Hmmmm…I’d like to tell you what each volunteer did, but I know I’d miss some amazing act of service, skill and kindness. Safer, and shorter, to say that we accomplished a lot that first day: grout removal, plumbing repair, drywall work, trash removal, annual flowers planted and mulched, old doors removed and new doors installed, new GFCI outlets put in…it was amazing to see Bethany volunteers working hard all day to give Gabby new hope and a new start. Our mission chair, Judy Barnett, stopped by to check on us at lunch, and to present Gabby with a beautiful handmade quilt. It brought Gabby to tears with joy and gratitude.

We worked from around 8:30a-4:30p that first Saturday. Still more to do, but we (well, speaking for myself) were bushed. Clean up the area, throw things in the dumpster, and head home. (RT supplied a dumpster and a port-a-potty.)

After a bit of recovery, we were ready to think about how to complete the job. More drywall work during the week (Thanks, Mike R!), then a final push on Saturday, May 6. That day, the weather was perfect for removing the old fence and installing a new one. We had five new volunteers that day – nice to have fresh legs! Inside, the new drywall was painted, including the a stairwell and a fresh coat of paint on the front door. Tile was set and re-grouted in the bathrooms. Another fabulous day of literally being God’s hands and feet!

One of the greatest things, for me, about this project was its relational aspect; working together we each got to know Gabby and her brother, feeling a loving connection and her overwhelming sense of gratitude. (She’s also pretty funny.) Her father was a Holocaust survivor, so I felt especially blessed to be able to help. Here are her words following the first day of work:

“I just wanted to thank you all for the amazing kindness that all of you have shown us. There are truly no words to express how thankful I am. It has been a very humbling experience and one that I will always remember. My heart is truly touched by you all. I don’t know if any of you are aware how much you have all changed our lives forever. Kindness is a gift from G-D (the Jewish religion doesn’t allow me to spell out his name so we write it as above) May you all be blessed throughout your lives!”

I hope this recap encourages you to get involved with Rebuilding Together next spring. From lunch prep to trash hauling to painting to fence building to skilled building tasks, there’s a place for you. Look out for announcements in March of 2024. Thank you to Bethany UMC for supporting this project and to the Bethany volunteers who got the work done with joy, patience and determination. Well done!

With respect,
Karen Steenhoek