When a group of young volunteers descended on Yvonne Vinson’s mobile home last summer, they replaced the buckled carpeting in her living room and eating area, and repaired a damaged bathroom floor.
Now, instead of worrying about tripping inside her own home, Vinson, 77, feels safe and secure.
The effort was thanks to the Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, an organization known as WARM. Since its founding in Wilmington, N.C., in 1996, WARM has worked to rebuild homes and restore hope for low-income neighbors in coastal North Carolina. Thousands of volunteers, mostly from the faith community, have donated time and muscle.
“We make homes safer,” says the executive director, J.C. Skane. “And when people tell me ‘This was an answer to my prayers,’ I know it’s a job well done.”
Supporting the Cause
WARM began when local United Methodist Church leaders organized disaster relief crews to repair damage caused by back-to-back hurricanes. The volunteers noticed that many of the homes were already substandard, with dilapidated plumbing, leaking roofs and inadequate heating. As the demand for replacement housing eased, WARM became an independent nonprofit focused on repairing substandard homes for vulnerable families.
The Duke Endowment first supported the effort in 2008 with a $50,000 grant to Wilmington’s Wrightsboro United Methodist Church, which allowed WARM to hire an executive director and take on more work.
In 2012, a $30,000 grant from the Endowment is helping the organization expand in rural Pender County, where services can be sparse. The organization will operate from a United Methodist church parsonage in Hampstead and recruit volunteers from local congregations.
“This effort is at the intersection of two important goals for us,” says Duke Endowment Trustee Dennis Campbell, who chairs the Committee on Rural Church. “It helps strengthen churches by engaging congregations in an important program that serves others – and it addresses a critical need in North Carolina.”
Safe and Independent
WARM has restored and repaired more than 600 homes over the years, but 120 people still fill a waiting list. The demand for help, says Skane, just continues to grow.
In North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Housing Coalition, one in five homes is substandard. Nearly 9,000 households go without heat in the winter. And more than 13,000 homes don’t have indoor plumbing.
Living in those conditions can compromise the health of every family member. AARP research shows that the leading cause of death from injury among older adults is from falls, and one-third of those falls occur because of unsafe conditions in the home. A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study found that 40 percent of diagnosed asthma in children is caused by exposure to mold, mildew or other hazards in the home.
Skane remembers working in one home where tape on the carpet showed the children where they shouldn’t step. The subfloor was so rotten, they had to worry about falling through. Another home lacked wheelchair accessibility, which meant the elderly resident had to rely on friends and family to help her use the bathroom.
Through WARM, crews repair roofs and siding, flooring and sheetrock, plumbing and windows. They build wheelchair ramps and replace doors. They make rickety stairs sturdy. To qualify for assistance, household income must be 50 percent below the median for the county, and the home must be owner-occupied.
“The people we help have managed their money well enough to have their home as an asset,” Skane says. “Some of them are elderly. Some of them are struggling single-parent families that have come across a barrier to self-sufficiency. We provide a little boost so they can continue to be safe and independent.”
‘Blood, Sweat, Hammering’
With a background in real estate, Skane joined WARM as a volunteer board member before becoming the organization’s full-time leader in 2009. In her time as executive director, WARM has increased its budget and scope. Last year, the organization worked on 81 homes with the help of more than 700 volunteers.
The average cost of repairs is $3,500 to $4,000 – but the benefits are priceless. Dozens of notes taped to Skane’s door remind her of that every morning.
To all who came and helped build my ramp… words cannot express just how thankful I am. I felt so trapped and you were angels that set me free!!
My life has been richly increased.
I am so thankful and grateful and appreciative for all the blood, sweat, hammering, nailing, plumbing and all that went into making my “tin can” a safer, more productive place to live.
Now I have no anxiety or fear when I go to my doctor’s appointments. God bless you all.
At her mobile home, Yvonne Vinson agrees. “This was a blessing,” she says, looking around her living room. “It has made all the difference in the world.”
Find more information about WARM or call 910.399.7563.
Kristen R. Richardson-Frick