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Volunteers trade time off for job building homes

Volunteers trade time off for job building homes

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Volunteers trade time off for job building homes

March 6, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0810}

An e-Review Feature
By Sarah Alsgaard**

PALMETTO — The early February day was unusually warm as Larry Warner, 84, from Terra Ceia United Methodist Church cut plywood. Already, beads of sweat hung on his forehead and scalp.

Warner was helping frame-up a window, passing slats to another person on a ladder who nailed them into place.

Larry Warner, 84, from Terra Ceia United Methodist Church, cuts lumber for a Habitat for Humanity home in Palmetto. Warner is one of dozens of volunteers from United Methodist churches in Manatee County who are helping Habitat build the remaining eight homes in a 32-home project, including one being built from the slab up by the United Methodist churches. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-0769.

Although he built his own home in Ohio back in 1947, Warner’s job that day was helping build a home for someone in need.

“Our pastor said they could use some help so I thought, ‘Well, I’ll go down and spend some time, ’ ” said Warner, a World War II veteran.

“You know, gets me out of the house,” he said, smiling.

Warner moved to Palmetto from Ohio 17 years ago. That Tuesday under the hot sun was his first day working with Habitat for Humanity on the home.

His church is one of 15 United Methodist Churches in Manatee County helping build eight houses in the last section of Habitat for Humanity’s “Village of the Palms,” a project to build 32 homes in Palmetto. Organizers hope to complete the community by mid-April.
“We have had churches involved, but we’ve never had this many,” said Mary Kay Williams, executive director for Manatee County’s Habitat for Humanity. “And I have to say this is one of the most coordinated efforts that we’ve had, so I’m really pleased.”

Volunteers from the churches work on the homes every Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30 a.m. until noon, according to a Web site created for the project.

Although the churches are working on all the remaining homes in the project, they’ve agreed to build one home from the slab up, designated as The United Methodist Church home, Williams said.

The houses are approximately 1,080 square feet, with three bedrooms and one bathroom. The price tag for the United Methodist home will be in the neighborhood of $85,000.

Making a difference together
The idea to build a Habitat home came from one of the church clusters in the Manatee County area. Members of the cluster meet every Monday morning for breakfast and discussion.
“We thought it would be a good idea for us to find something that we can do together so we decided to do this,” said the Rev. Tom McCloskey, pastor at First United Methodist Church, Bradenton.
Soon, nearly every United Methodist church in Manatee County had given volunteers to the project.

“It’s paid for, and it’s a partnership with the community and individuals who, for some reason, can’t get a house for themselves,” McCloskey said. “That’s consistent with how United Methodists think and do and act.”

Fifteen Manatee County United Methodist churches are sponsoring the building of one of the 32 homes in Habitat for Humanity of Manatee County’s Village of the Palms community. When completed the house will sell for around $85,000. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-0770.

They churches kicked off construction of the home in early January and are hoping to have a dedication ceremony in mid-April, McCloskey said.
“The ultimate objective is to provide a house for a single mother and her family, but the fun part has been that all of us in our churches have found that it’s something we can all enjoy together,” McCloskey said. “It’s good for our churches. It’s also a good witness for the community about what United Methodists are all about.”

Melissa Adams is getting an up-close and personal opportunity to experience that witness. She is the single mom who will be living in the house with her daughter, Sharicka.

In a recent phone interview with Adams she said she is still “in shock” about being chosen to receive a home.

“We went home and we cried when we found out we got accepted in,” she said. “It was just a dream come true. … It’s God’s blessing to many of us. … Every night I thank the good Lord for these people — Habitat and the United Methodists and everyone who helped chip in.”

Tackling homelessness  

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian organization founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller to provide quality, affordable housing for low-income families around the world. Since its creation, the organization has built more than 225,000 homes worldwide through local Habitat for Humanity chapters in more than 90 countries and all 50 states, according to the organization’s Web site.

“It’s not a hand-out; it’s a hand-up,” Williams said, explaining that families must help build their homes.

Couples wishing to own a Habitat for Humanity home in Palmetto must give 500 “sweat equity hours,” meaning they help build their own home and their neighbors’ homes. Single adults must give 300 hours of their time.
“We’re all working on each other’s homes, and it gives you joy, and as a community we can say, ‘Remember when you were out here doing such-and-such?’ ” Adams said. “They’re (other families in the community) really nice neighbors.”
Volunteers from all over

It takes many people working with the families to build a home, but no special skills are required to be a volunteer, Williams said. And Habitat is always looking for new recruits.

Steve McElhenny, his wife, Jan (center), and another volunteer from Parrish United Methodist Church install hurricane shutters on a Habitat For Humanity home being built in Palmetto. The shutters help keep vandals from breaking previously installed windows. Fifteen United Methodist churches in the Manatee County area have come together to help build the last of eight homes, including one designated the United Methodist home, in a 32-home Habitat community called Village of the Palms, scheduled for completion in April. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-0771.

“You just need to come with a willing heart and happy hands,” she said. “We’ll show people what they need to know. Almost all of the work is done by volunteers, with the exception of the skilled trades, like the plumbing and electrical.”

“Breathing, breathing and swallowing are basically it,” said Steve McElhenny, from Parrish United Methodist Church. “No, seriously, they provide all the tools and instruction. It’s incredible. We just have to listen, follow directions and go to it.”

McElhenny said he and his wife, Jan — snowbirds from New Jersey — have been helping for about six weeks and “thoroughly enjoy the experience.” 

“We come down to Florida for four months, and we swim and play tennis, but this gives us something constructive (to do),” Steve McElhenny said.

Jan McElhenny has had experience with construction, but when she was “much, much younger,” she said. She and her crew were installing hurricane shutters to protect the glass windows underneath, not from a storm, but from vandals who had already broken several newly hung windows.
David Neiser, another snowbird, is from Ohio and attends Parrish United Methodist Church when he’s living in the area.
“The church mentioned that they needed some help building the homes so I signed up to give them a hand,” he said.

He too was helping install hurricane shutters on one of the homes, working alongside three other United Methodist volunteers.

“I just want to help someone else,” he said. “I want to give a helping hand to someone who needs some help.”

Williams encouraged other churches throughout Florida to get involved in Habitat for Humanity by contacting their local Habitat for Humanity chapter. Information on how churches can partner with the organization is available at Habitat for Humanity’s Web site is

Information on helping build the homes in the Village of the Palms is available at


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is a freelance writer based in Lakeland.