Funding drop affects Lawrence volunteers

By Mary Grzebieniak

Three Lawrence County volunteer rehab projects see county support drop.

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — The volunteers are plentiful and have descended on Lawrence County for two weeklong July projects aimed at sprucing up the homes of Lawrence County’ elderly and disabled and poor.

But they won’t be able do as much as in previous years because of the far-reaching effects of the mortgage crisis.

In His Hands, and The Carpenter’s Project two annual weeklong efforts that provide painting, construction and repairs for low-income homeowners, will have to scale back their efforts this year because of a drop in funding.

The projects rely on annual grants the Lawrence County commissioners make through the Affordable Housing Fund program. That money is derived from a $9.50 fee that the state allows to be charged on each deed and mortgage recorded by the county recorder’s office. The money must then be used to assist those making less than the county’s median income.

In past years, county commissioners have given the In His Hands project $15,000 to $18,000 from the fund and The Carpenter’s Project $15,000. This year, the groups will receive only $10,000 and $11,000, respectively. And no funding has yet been given to Cray Youth and Family Services for an ongoing project to rehabilitate properties in one deteriorating New Castle neighborhood.

County Chief Clerk/Administrator Jim Gagliano said the reason is that the Affordable Housing Fund usually collects $60,000 to $85,000 annually. But this year it is lagging behind, with only $28,000 collected so far.

In His Hands is a project of the New Castle Ministerial Alliance in conjunction with Lawrence County Community Action Partnership. Debby Hennon, Director of Emergency and Community Services at LCCAP, said because of this year’s cuts, she asked the participating churches to contribute some money. The churches came across with some donations, but the project is still about $6,000 short.

So Hennon said the group has cut back on projects that require a lot of wood and other supplies and instead are concentrating on cheaper projects such as painting and cleaning up yards for residents. Home-owners who can afford it also are being asked to buy their own paint.

The group uses churches and other sources, such as the housing rehabilitation program waiting list, to find residents who need home repair, handicapped access ramps, painting, yard cleaning and other work. This week, 80 to 100 young people and 25 to 50 adults plan to do 30 to 40 projects. Some of the work includes repairing porches and steps, redoing bathrooms and roofs with professional help, clearing yards and attics, both interior and exterior painting and installing skirting around mobile homes.

But she said building of community relationships — not the repairs — is the most important part of the project. She recounted the case of one elderly woman who told youths who were painting her house that since her husband’s death, she spent her evenings sitting alone and crying in the dark because of her loneliness. As a result, the church van now picks up the woman, and she is involved in the community.

“That’s what rescues a community,” Hennon said, “people, not government.”

Marcia Timblin, who directs The Ellwood City/Riverside area Carpenter’s Project along with her husband, Chuck, said that the county funding cutbacks may mean that this coming year, for the first time, someone who requests help from the project might have to be turned down. “We might have to tell somebody we can’t build them a ramp,” she said.

She said that until now, they have never had to turn anyone down who requested help.

The Carpenter’s Project, named, Timblin said, “after Christ the carpenter,” is in its eighth year and completed its annual workweek Friday. This year, 255 volunteers, including 135 youths, participated. During the rest of the year, a group of retired volunteers builds ramps, one of the more expensive projects, with even a short ramp costing almost $1,000, Timblin said.

Timblin said the group was started at Calvin Presbyterian Church in Ellwood City when Connie MacDonald, who was chairman of the church mission board as well as being borough fire chief at the time, questioned the wisdom of sending youths on mission projects to other areas at a cost of $300 to $500 apiece when they could be helping local people. There were not enough youths at Calvin to launch a large project, so other area churches were invited to join. An anonymous donor kick- started the project with $5,000, and now 14 churches sponsor the project, and 25 send volunteers.

The group also raises money by selling candy bars, having a spaghetti dinner in February and by sponsoring an upcoming evening at the Red Barn Theater in Ellwood City.

Businesses also give deep discounts to help with cost of supplies, including Wampum Home Improvement, T&M Hardware and Blank Concrete in Ellwood City and Brian Whiting, New Castle, who donates trash bins.

A third project, a housing repair and clean-up project on New Castle’s lower East side, by Cray Youth and Family Services, has not received any money so far this year from the Affordable Housing Fund. Last year, commissioners gave $25,000 to the project aimed at rehabilitating properties in the Crawford Avenue area. Cray works with at-risk children and families in Lawrence County providing such services as foster- and group-home and after-school programs.

Donations for The Carpenter’s Project can be sent to Carpenter’s Project, c/o First United Methodist Church, 416 Crescent Ave., Ellwood City, PA 16117.

Anyone wishing to volunteer for the In His Hands project this week can call LCCAP at (724) 658-7258 or just show up at Epworth United Methodist Church, 805 E. Washington St., New Castle, at 8 a.m. any day this week.

LCCAP can always use donations for the project. Checks can be made payable to LCCAP and sent to Hennon at 241 W. Grant St., New Castle, PA 16102.

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