Photo by Casey Case
Students from Eagle's Landing Christian Academy teamed up recently to help cleanup the yard of a McDonough senior citizen.
By Johnny Jackson
The students' efforts were demonstrated in the growing pile of two-by-four wooden boards salvaged from the earlier demolition of an unsafe structure, attached to an old McDonough home.
The pupils, high-schoolers from Eagle's Landing Christian Academy (ELCA), were taking part in a continuing community service project, involving the rehabilitation of an elderly woman's aging property.
"It's not easy, but it's not something that can't be done," said Isaac Rochell, 15. "We're just the first step to restoring this house."
As some pried wood nails from plywood, Rochell and others trimmed overgrown shrubbery, and collected limbs, leaves, and other debris strewn about the marshy yard. By midday they had made marked progress in filling a trash dumpster -- one of five required to remove debris from the home, according to community volunteer Armie Robinson.
Robinson was among several volunteers who worked to take down an incomplete and dilapidated two-story addition at the back of 77-year-old Betty Laster Thompson's Simpson Street home in McDonough.
"I don't know her, I'm not related to her, and I'm not a carpenter," said Robinson. "I'm just a community person. We've got volunteers to help clean this up as best we can. [But] the story doesn't end like this."
The story began more than a year ago, and will continue as a community collaborative, according to McDonough City Councilwoman Sandra Vincent.
Thompson was unable to complete the construction of an addition to her home, explained Vincent. As a result of years of neglect, the structure deteriorated to the point of requiring code enforcement sanctions with regard to its structural integrity.
"Ms. Thompson could not afford to make the needed repairs to her 100-year-old home, and demolishing the structure proved too costly," Vincent said. "In the spirit of community service, several volunteers -- Armie Robinson, Ernie Robinson, Willie James Brooks, Tony Brooks, three other citizens, and one code enforcement officer (during non-working hours) -- came together to assist Ms. Thompson by demolishing the addition."
The city councilwoman said the remaining house proved to have additional violations and resulted in the need for greater involvement, including help from the city, and organizations like the Henry County Fuller Center for Housing.
"The city's initiative is called 'Project Restore,' and is a holistic approach to the issue of quality of life, neighborhood stabilization, and sustainability," said Vincent. "Project Restore is a part of a larger regional initiative, called 'Piece by Piece,' which provides up-to-date status of metro Atlanta's foreclosure crisis and ways to take action to help address it ...
"Project Restore will work directly with the code enforcement department and Henry County Fuller Center, to identify areas of greatest need," she continued. "The Henry County Fuller Center will then follow its normal process for tiering projects, identifying the scope of work, and soliciting volunteers. Ms. Thompson's home is one such project."
ELCA's role in the project was that of volunteer organization. On March 31, the private Christian school provided a team of 28 high school students to assist in cleanup on the property, which is expected to undergo other code correction repairs later this spring and summer.
"I think it's really good because a lot of times people focus on things outside the community, but I think it's really important to work on things inside the community as far as mission work goes," said ELCA sophomore, Rochell.
Rochell is one of about 320 high-schoolers at ELCA who are participating in several community service projects this spring. The Simpson Street home is part of the school's inaugural Minimester of Christian Service initiative, led by Kevin Hornsby, who divided the school into 16 teams -- seven local teams, four national teams, and five international teams.
"I think it gives students a chance to put their faith into practice," said David Balty, captain of the 28-member clean-up team on Simpson Street.
"I hope that somehow they'll find the joy of serving others," said Balty, a high school English teacher at ELCA. "We teach them good academics, but this is a way to teach them about helping their fellow man."
"ELCA approached us several months ago looking to help on a project," said Shane Persaud, president of the Henry County Fuller Center for Housing.
The non-profit, established in 2009, is an offspring of the Greater Atlanta Fuller Center for Housing organization, which was derived from the international Christian housing outreach group.
Henry County Fuller Center completed 17 projects in its inaugural year of 2009, seven projects in 2010, and two, so far, this year. Persaud said there are currently eight applications requesting inclusion on the local non-profit's list of projects.
Persaud estimates as much as $20,000 will be required to complete restorations to the Simpson Street home. He said any involvement in adding such an expensive project would depend on funding and resources.
"The Fuller Center's involvement is going to be determined by the level of fund-raising we can obtain," he said. "We try to focus on projects under $5,000. But we've got more need than the resources required to meet the need, and complete the projects."
Fund-raising has also been a challenge for another Henry County Fuller Center endeavor --the Delee Family Project.
Construction worker Ed Delee, his wife, and their two children were forced to move from their home, when Ed Delee was injured in a motorcycle crash. The accident left the husband and father unable to work and confined to a wheelchair.
Persaud said the family will have a home waiting for them when efforts to rebuild a McDonough home are finally realized.
McDonough City Councilman Monta Brown donated a neglected home on Legion Road that had been in his family, said Persaud, estimating that cost for reconstructing the McDonough home would be about $50,000. Volunteers are still trying to garner funding and support for that reconstruction project, which began in February 2010.
Persaud said in-kind donations from electricians, plumbers, and other subcontracts would go a long way in helping decrease those costs.
"With the funds and resources," he said, "I think we could complete it in four-to-six weeks."
To learn more about the Henry County Fuller Center for Housing, visit www.hcfullercenter.org. Those interested in participating in Project Restore, or volunteering in restoration efforts at the Simpson Street home, are asked to contact City Councilwoman Vincent at (678) 618-7579.