On a hot summer day in Grand Rapids, Mich., Mary Worst was sitting on the front steps of a 114-year-old house, taking a break from her volunteer work, chatting with fellow project volunteers Hope Bradley and Claire Elgersma.
The house project is a partnership between World Renew’s Disaster Response Services, which often repairs and rebuilds damaged homes after a disaster, and The Well House, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that provides safe, affordable housing to people experiencing homelessness. World Renew is the relief and development agency of the Christian Reformed Church.
The women were sipping water and talking about DRS relief trips they’d been on over the years. Worst was trying to recall her last one.
“I’ve been out of it for decades,” she finally concluded. “Probably been 25-30 years.”
Yet here she was, as the temperature approached 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius), with a big smile on her face talking about how good it felt to be working on this rundown two-story.
“This has been a great re-entry into the (DRS) work,” she continued. “I like working with my hands, I like seeing something like this house being restored, and I can go home and sleep in my own bed at night!”
Worst’s comment brought an equally bright smile to the face of World Renew DRS director Bob Laarman.
“Getting this house done means providing a home for people who didn’t have one,” he said. “That is the key measure of success. But there’s been a steady stream of volunteers here, including people, like Mary, who haven’t volunteered in ages. That’s also a success.”
Well House director John Glover agreed. When he began his new role in April 2018, he said he came with a commitment and determination to partner with other nonprofits in the area.
A family connection helped to birth the Well House-DRS partnership. Pauline Mitchell, groups program coordinator for DRS, is mother to Bryant Mitchell, a member of the Well House Board.
Pauline Mitchell said when the current project wraps up in the fall of 2019, it will have benefitted from about 240 hours of volunteer labor provided over the course of almost a year. Between 25 and 30 volunteers have participated, representing a wide variety of ages, walks of life, and churches in the West Michigan area, including Faith CRC in Holland, Church of the Servant, Creston CRC, and Central RCA in Grand Rapids, and Heritage CRC in Byron Center.
The 1,414-square-foot, four-bedroom house will become a home for people previously homeless who will be able to rent rooms at affordable rates.
“I think this has been a good connection,” Mitchell said. “Our volunteers believe in this cause, and they’ve done good work. I’m very happy.”