But Dee Silvers has another name for them.
“They’re my Earth Angels,” the 88-year-old widow said. “Whenever I need a helping hand, they show up, ready to get to work. And they’re always so polite and friendly.”
Launched in 2013, iServe is a grassroots ministry that gives church members an outlet to assist people with pressing needs in the community at no cost.
|iServe volunteer Ian Winger makes sure a section of a building project is on the level.|
Projects range from installing grab bars in bathrooms for the elderly to delivering donated new twin beds and linens to caregivers and extended family members who take in children and youth through the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian Ad Litem program.
“Our mission is to use our gifts and resources to help our neighbors,” said iServe leader John Cousins, who compiles a weekly report to keep the team up to date on all the projects.
“Everybody benefits. Our volunteers are living out their faith, and the recipients get things done they may not be able to afford and by people they can trust.”
The ministry’s popularity is reflected in numbers. In its first year, volunteers completed 48 jobs. In 2018, the year’s total projects climbed to 174.
Over six years, there have been 719 completed assignments.
“It just keeps growing,” he said. “We’re on track to do 200 projects this year.”
The volunteer hours also jumped from 950 in 2013 to 1,676 in 2018. Overall, Killearn members have devoted 10,528 hours to iServe projects since it began.
There’s no charge for the labor and materials. To meet the costs of the projects, the Church Mission Committee provides funding as needed for the ministry. Some recipients also make donations to offset expenses.
Partnering with a local business made one of iServe’s programs possible. Cousins’ wife, an advocate with Guardian ad Litem, told him about the need for beds for kids in abuse or neglect situations placed with family members or court-appointed caregivers.
He met with the director and asked how the ministry could help. By February 2015, iServe formalized an agreement with Mattress First to provide discounted mattresses, box springs and frames to iServe, with volunteers doing the deliveries to the homes.
|Randy Merchant builds half-steps.|
They also bring new linens purchased by the ministry.
They have since delivered 274 beds.
“Finding a crucial need and fulfilling it,” Cousins said. “That’s our mission.”
As demand for services grew, Cousins, director of Healthcare Intelligence for CIT Bank, knew there had to be a more efficient way of matching jobs with volunteers.
He developed a project request form to assess the project and how many workers it would involve. In some cases, volunteers are dispatched to go to the site to determine what materials and skills are needed.
Requests pop up on a regular basis, Cousins said, with about one-third coming from church members or ministries served by the church.
Other referrals come from word-of-mouth.
And, some come from local occupational therapists working with low-income clients and through Abililty1st, a community-based organization helping empower people with disabilities to live independently.
The hottest item right now? Grab bars.
“We just installed eight sets in three homes in the last week,” Cousins said. “It’s not a huge effort on our end, yet they bring a tremendous sense of safety to the elderly. It’s really a joy to see their reaction.”
That’s why retired attorney Keith Tischler, 65, volunteers. He credits Cousins’ “vision and organization” for the success of the ministry.
“There’s a lot of need out there, and every bit helps,” Tischler said. “I know I don’t have the power to change the world. But I can make a small difference in someone’s life, one person at a time. Seeing them light up when we finish the job is an incredible joy.”
|iServe volunteer Keith Tischler's specialty is carpentry, like building wooden half-steps and wheelchair ramps.|
Volunteers bring niche talents to the table. Tischler’s specialty is carpentry, like building wooden half-steps and wheelchair ramps.
“I’ve gone on several mission trips and have done a lot of handyman projects,” he said. “I’ll try anything. My wife just asks I don’t do electrical or plumbing work.”
Tischler’s personal goal is to do two projects a week for iServe. While the ministry always has plenty of projects in the queue, it doesn’t always have the manpower to get them done right away. Most of the volunteers are over 50, a blend of working professionals and retirees.
“We’re always in the recruit mode,” Tischler said. “That’s our biggest challenge. People are enthused about what we do, but when it comes to actually volunteering on a regular basis, that’s another story. Everybody is so busy these days and overextended.”
Cousins is hoping to draw in younger volunteers, including members from the church’s youth group.
“It’s a challenge for any ministry,” he said. “We’ve got some active teens right now, but we’re always looking for more. It’s a good way to get community-service hours.”
For Silvers, her “Earth Angels” have been a Godsend.
When a hurricane knocked her fence over, the iServe team set up posts in cement to make them more secure. When she had her hip replacement, they put in grab bars in her bathroom. And when leaves and tree debris piled on her roof, they got it all cleaned off.
“They arrive with smiles on their faces, like they’re genuinely happy to be here,” she said. “For a woman living alone, they are a welcome sight to see. I can’t praise them enough.”
—Michelle Bearden is a freelance writer in Tampa.