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Volunteers from Halethorpe church among those helping homeowners in need

ChristianityMethodistCharityMark Twain

The sun hadn't reached its peak intensity by 10 a.m. on July 17, but the four volunteers from Halethorpe-Relay United Methodist Church were already sweating.

Temperatures would rise into the upper 90s that day as volunteers painted the fence of a Catonsville home during Baltimore County Christian Workcamp, July 16-20.

Among the four members of Halethorpe-Relay United Methodist Church applying a transparent waterproofing wood finish to a 140-foot slat fence running parallel to a home on the 400 block of Commonwealth Avenue was Rev. Claire Fiedler.

The pastor of the church at 4513 Ridge Avenue stripped off a pair of blue latex gloves and took a break from painting to talk about the project.

She called the effort a great opportunity for everyone involved, especially the volunteers.

"It's part of their faith training, serving Christ by serving others," said Fiedler, who has been at the church for 17 years. "I appreciate their willingness to give of themselves."

Among the four was Kaitlin Boyer, a freshman at Lansdowne High School, who said she had never painted a fence before.

She answered "No," when asked if the chore was as much fun as the Mark Twain character Tom Sawyer made it out to be when he tricked people into doing his work for him.

Still, she was happy to do the project.

"I like helping," she said as she applied the finish to a 6-foot-tall section of the fence. "I always do stuff around my neighborhood (to help others.)"

Matt Austin, a senior at Howard High School, worked beside Kaitlin and said the project benefits him as much as the people he's helping.

"It's a good idea to be active in your community and help people who might need it," he said. "I get a sense of accountability and I like helping other people."

Jennifer Gibbons worked on the 4-foot-tall section of fence at the front of the property and joked that she thought she would escape the heat when she moved to Halethorpe from Durham, N.C. in 2008.

Gibbons, a scientist in research and development, took advantage of her company's policy that allows employees to volunteer one day each year.

She looked forward to the day when her son, Henry Jr., 3, would be able to pitch in.

"I'm thrilled about doing this because when he's old enough I'd love him to help," said Gibbons, who married her husband, Henry, nine years ago. "I'm having a good time."

About 200 members of Christian churches around Baltimore County volunteered to provide upgrades to 36 homes of county residents in need this year, including three residences in Catonsville.

"We go in and do what we can, considering the time that we have," said Frank Thomas, a co-director of the project that two Methodist ministers started in 1984. "This was set up to be a mission in people's own backyard."

Baltimore County Christian Workcamp, a nonprofit, has a budget of between $15,000 and $18,000 each year, Thomas said.

The volunteers tackle any project for which they have the resources and know-how.

Participating churches are asked to donate $100 for building supplies.

Volunteers donate $6 a day or $25 for the week to help defray costs of building materials and the meals available to them.

Last week, while the volunteers from the Halethorpe church worked, they learned the residents of the house had just heard that an uncle had died.

Upon hearing the news, Fiedler knocked on the door of the house and talked to a family member.

"We respond to whatever the needs are," Fiedler said the next day.

Providing a way out

The volunteers often receive requests for construction projects to help the disabled become more mobile, Thomas said.

"This year, we have been particularly bombarded by wheelchair ramp requests," Thomas said.

He said while most years the number of requests is from five to eight, this year's total is nearly double that.

Among those receiving ramps was Helen Farley-High, who moved to Catonsville from Ocean City six years ago to be closer to family.

"I didn't have a way to get a ramp, didn't have the money for it," she said.

The 76-year-old hadn't been able to go outside without the assistance of her children for two years.

Five volunteers from Hunt's Memorial United Methodist Church in Riderwood, near Towson, changed that by building a ramp on July 17.

"They were out there from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the horrible sun giving their time," she said. "It's wonderful. Those people are the kindest, nicest people. I just can't believe they do these things for disabled seniors."

In addition to the ramp, Farley-High said the volunteers fixed part of her siding and a cabinet door, installed air filters and weeded her yard.

Farley-High said she would encourage family members to make a donation to Hunt's Memorial Methodist Church.

"I wish people would know about it and would donate to their churches," she said.

Farley-High learned about the service from the churches from a volunteer making a delivery for Meals on Wheels.

"All it took was one phone call," Farley-High recalled of the conversation she had in May. "When I made it, the gentleman I talked to said, 'I'll contact you in July.' And they did."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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