Each summer, groups travel all across North America to worksites and projects to volunteer their time on community projects. First Presbyterian Church and First Christian Reformed Church in Chatham, Ont., noticed this trend and decided to join in—but in their own community. Rev. Mike Maroney of First Presbyterian saw a need and began the Backyard Mission in 2009.
Since then, the two congregations have worked together each year to invite nominations and select a deserving homeowner to receive an outdoor residential transformation, free of charge.
Volunteers work on the project for two days under the leadership of experienced local contractor Mark Labadie. This year, about 30 people came to help homeowner Dorothy. They rebuilt the ramp and steps of her home, painted the garage and fence, and redid the gardens.
“I think there’s kind of a general trend to think global and act local,” said Rev. Nate Van Denend of First CRC. “I like that this is a chance to just look at our immediate neighbours and make a little bit of an impact on our own community.”
Another advantage of a local project is that families and individuals can work together without traveling. Volunteers at this year’s event included those from ages 10 to 80. “We’ve got retired carpenters working side by side with 10- and 11-year-old kids,” said Van Denend. “Everybody’s working and learning from each other.”
Benjamin Lankhof, 10, of First CRC helped paint the 150 feet of wooden fence around the property. “It was fun!” he said, then added, “I did take a few breaks because it was very hot.” His sister, Sarah, 11, added, “We also helped paint the shutters.” So, will they be back near year? “Oh, yes, definitely!”
The mission has become a way to reach out to members of the Chatham community who might not otherwise connect with a church. People express gratitude and surprise that so many volunteers would come to provide labor and supplies to help a stranger at no cost. Their reactions reinforce this year’s theme, “Let Your Light Shine.”