Volunteers help “neighbors”
By Aubrey Ann Parker
It is 9:30 a.m., and there are already flecks of cream paint on Pastor Anne Hébert’s orange-sherbet-colored sweatshirt. While some people are just getting their morning caffeine buzz going, Hébert and around 80 volunteers have already been at work for a couple of hours—some cooking, some painting, some sawing, some hammering.
They will continue to work well into the late afternoon, a long day by anyone’s standards, and especially given that the average age of the group is late 60s, and most of the volunteers have retired from their “day jobs.”
This work occurs Monday through Friday for an entire week in June. The group meets each morning at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church—at the top of the hill between Beulah and Honor, with a view of Upper Platte Lake and Lake Michigan out the back and a vineyard out the front—at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast, a run-down of the day’s jobs, and a prayer, before rushing off to housing projects in Copemish, Elberta, Frankfort, and Thompsonville.
They install new windows and doors, paint siding and shutters, build new porches and railings, as well as wheel-chair ramps.
The volunteers are part of St. Andrews Mission Project, or STAMP for short, which works on the homes of Benzie County families in need during the third full week of June each year. Workers do not have to be members of St. Andrews Church to get involved, and, in fact, many are not—about one-quarter of the 80 volunteers belong to other churches or no church at all. (They’ve even got one atheist.)
“It’s a way for us to get to know our neighbors and to get involved in our community,” says Hébert, who is the pastor at St. Andrews Church. “And our faith calls us to be servants.”
How It Works
The first STAMP projects began in 2009 in Thompsonville, and since that time, the group has completed jobs at 134 homes in and around Benzie County—that is an average of about 17 homes per year.
There is a mix of construction and non-construction projects at each site, so anyone of any age or ability can volunteer. The budget for the 14 homes that STAMP worked on during the week of June 19 through June 23, 2017, was just over $16,000, which included 10 windows and casings at $300 each; 10 doors at $800 each; and six wheel-chair ramps at $1,000 each.
Additionally, there are volunteers who work out of the church—preparing breakfast and lunch snacks, running errands, making deliveries.
“STAMP lets us connect on a human level,” Hébert says. “Many of us are only one paycheck away from being in a similar situation… There is no barrier to reaching out and realizing that we have more in common than we think.”
The pre-planning work begins in April each year, when a handful of STAMP coordinators—namely Jim Jackway, Tom Torbett, and Tim Quist, along with Judy Harnish, chair of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Mission Ministry Team—connect with Benzie Area Christian Neighbors (BACN) and Benzie Senior Resources to get a list of people who have requested help with housing projects, mostly of a “make it warmer, make it safer, make it drier” nature. The only hard-and-fast rule is that you must own your home to be a part of the program.
“[St. Andrews] sets up the structure of the program, and we recruit the homeowners,” says Gerri VanAntwerp, BACN’s executive director. “Weatherization, disability, ramps, decking, windows, things like that”
The STAMP coordinators then visit each house and survey the potential projects to see what jobs are within the scope of what STAMP volunteers can do, versus what jobs need more professional assistance. By the beginning of June, they order the materials that are needed to complete the projects. There is about six weeks of fundraising, followed by one week of work.
Jim Jackway, a master electrician, was in charge of assigning work crews and getting materials for STAMP this year. Jackway grew up in Lowell, studied electrical engineering, and spent 20 years working for General Motors, followed by 20 years teaching skilled trades.
He joined St. Andrews Church when he moved to the area in the winter of 2014, shortly after building a house in Empire. He has a lot of experience, given that his Empire home is the seventh that he has built for himself. His father was a builder, and Jackway estimates that he must have helped his father to build another 20 homes.
Given his background, it is no surprise that Jackway became one of the lead coordinators for STAMP.
“I’ve been known to be a little bossy,” Jackway laughs. “But someone needs to give direction, right?”
History of STAMP
STAMP began in 2009, when Pam and Jim Pendexter retired to Benzie County. Pam had been a pastor at the First Congregational Church of Dundee, Illinois, which had run a similar program with Cumberland Mountain Outreach in Kentucky.
“It was such a rewarding experience, for the homeowners and the workers, too,” she says.
When she and her husband moved here, they became members of St. Andrews Church and immediately felt a connection to the close-knit community.
“This is as close to First Congregation of Dundee as we’re gonna get,” Pendexter laughs. “It’s a smaller congregation, but it’s vital, with very friendly people, who want to help.”
So the Pendexters enlisted the help of 16 people from their Illinois church to come and help that first year, and many have continued to come to Benzie County each year to help.
Filling A Need
Barb Ball, 55, moved to Frankfort from the Cadillac area six years ago, and she has been renovating her trailer ever since. Two years ago, she received help from STAMP, which installed 18 new windows, two new doors, and a back deck. This year, they came back and installed a new storm door, a new railing and steps on one deck, and a completely new second deck. Ball heard about the STAMP program while she was interning at BACN and then at St. Andrews; internships were a requirment of her Bachelor’s degree in Human Services through Baker College.
“I love these windows,” Ball says. “My trailer is so much warmer now. My gas bill has gone down; I used to have to keep it well above 80 degrees, and now, I never need to put it above 70.”
Ball is currently a stay-at-home grandmother to 3-year-old Sophia, while her daughter, Danielle Cascaddan, 26, works at Harbor Lights. All three are now members of the St. Andrews Church, and all three were baptized at the same time.
“If we can reduce utility costs, that’s a win,” VanAntwerp says. “There is a lot of talk about housing right now—and yes, big picture, it’s good to build homes to combat that problem. But this is a pretty simple way of keeping people in their homes, by making it more livable and re-establishing pride in their homes.”
Want to get involved in the STAMP project next year? Fundraising for the 2018 year begins now, so you can mail a check to St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, 8190 Lincoln Road, Beulah, MI, 49617, with “STAMP” in the memo line. Get your name on a work-bee list for next year by calling 231-882-4241 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at BenzieSTAndrews.com.