RACINE — They scraped and painted, weeded, planted, fixed, tore down and rebuilt.
There were teens and adults, some skilled labor, all were volunteers.
For a week, starting on June 21, ACTS Racine Youth Ministry and the Racine Christian Reformed Church provided the labor through a summer services work camp.
Throughout the week, the teens and their adult mentors made repairs to 11 houses between the 1100-1400 blocks of Villa Street and Park Avenue.
The effort benefitted the “House-Proud Program” of Racine Revitalization Partnership, Inc., which offers homeowners home repair and improvement services.
Ed Miller, executive director of RRP, explained in the past Racine has had the benefit of work camps organized by Racine Neighborhood Watch that brought young people into the city to volunteer on housing projects while also learning important skills.
However, because of COVID-19, there have not been work camps, leaving local programs like Racine Revitalization without the volunteer labor it was accustomed to having for much-needed projects.
That is when ACTS and the Racine Christian Reform Church became involved, offering up some much needed hands-on-deck.
“I think the nice thing about what we’ve done here is we have our very own youth helping out citizens in our community,” Miller said. “Instead of them going away and helping some other community, they’re staying in Racine and helping local folks.”
Miller explained the planning for the week of service begins very early in the year when RRP starts looking at potential neighborhoods where the home ownership rates are high, but there are financial barriers to home maintenance and repairs.
Some homeowners may already have run into some code enforcement issues over problematic exterior stairs, porches or any number of issues.
He said they usually start by passing out flyers to the homes in the chosen neighborhoods. However, they rarely get much response from those flyers, Miller explained.
People are suspicious of the offers of free home repair. Perhaps they think it is a scam, even when it isn’t.
Miller said once they start knocking on doors and introducing themselves, handing over their business cards, and showing they’re legit, people generally become more interested.
As to how many homeowners they can help, that generally depends on resources.
Garry Friesema, of the Racine Christian Reformed Church, worked on four projects on Park Avenue with a volunteer team of 25 adults and young people that included skilled labor.
Friesema said the group repaired porches and stairs, took out wood and put in new, scraped, primed, and painted.
A separate group worked on landscaping projects.
Father Juan brought volunteers from St. Edward, St. Patrick, and St. Richard Catholic churches, three parishes near Racine’s city center.
There were 51 teen volunteers spread out on different projects, not just House Proud.
“When we heard of this opportunity, we were thrilled to be able to come because it’s our neighborhoods,” he said and added the Gospel compels the people to help one another.
“It’s also shows the presence of the church in the neighborhood,” he added. “We are not just the church of the buildings; we’re the church of the people.”
One of the many benefits of the program is that it creates bridges for people of different economic backgrounds together, to get to know each other, and get to know the people of the neighborhood, he said.
“The benefit is bridging the gap that exists when you don’t walk the neighborhoods, when you’re separated,” he added.
Noting the diversity of the groups working on Park Avenue and Villa Street, Father Juan added the program would help to build stronger communities.
The volunteers have come together to help repair homes, but the other goal is community building. That comes through making connections — with each other and the people in the neighborhoods where they work.
Friesema said there are benefits to people coming together and working.
“You might have people that you’ve gone to church with all your life, but you never really worked with them before,” he said. “So you meet in a different setting and you learn something new.”
Friesema added they hoped to also make connections with the people in the neighborhood.
“Having a passion for people who you help, that was Christ’s work when he was on earth, and that’s what he told us to do, too,” Friesema said.
Sherwin-Williams also donated paint and supplies for this project. RRP partner, Neighborhood Watch, helped with coordination and supervision on site.