Sue Schrider has multiple sclerosis. She can't stand for long and uses a cane to walk. She doesn't work. And to add to her physical challenges, she is a divorced mom with two children.
But she is not facing her difficult life alone, and she is not without help.
Since joining Grace Community Church in 1996, Schrider has been able to count on the care and generosity of its members, especially through the Columbia church's Home Improvement Ministry.
Started by Donna Kirby, the ministry provides supplies and labor for free home repairs for its members who cannot afford them and who are unable to do the work themselves.
"It's comforting to know, being a single parent, that there's somewhere to turn to," said Schrider. Volunteers have moved furniture for her, hung shelves and done other small things in her apartment that the management does not.
It was because of Schrider that Kirby started the ministry six years ago. Kirby's husband had volunteered to regularly maintain Schrider's car. Watching him change the oil one day, Kirby thought it would be a good idea to organize a group to do this for other members of her congregation.
Now, Kirby has a list of 55 men who give up a Saturday morning to help others.
"We don't do it to get paid," said Kirby, who spends about 20 hours a week screening calls and coordinating the labor for the jobs.
E-mail makes the work go more quickly. Some of the men are professionals in home maintenance, but not all.
"Most are guys who have fixed things around their houses or done small repairs," Kirby said. The ministry has one electrician and could use more. So far, no plumbers have volunteered. When on a job, the men always work in pairs.
Kirby gets a lot of help from Bret Canterbury, who owns a small general contracting business. A third-generation contractor, Canterbury makes site visits to determine what supplies and how much manpower are needed.
In the past year, the ministry has painted houses, fixed leaky showers and bathtubs and corrected a serious mold problem in the basement of an elderly woman. That job required several visits to rip out carpeting and drywall, cut up and remove furniture and divert downspouts from the house, in addition to cleaning up the mold and sealing the basement walls.
Occasionally, jobs will take several months to complete because of their size and the availability of volunteers. Carol and Steve Pease live in Valley Meade in Ellicott City with their three children, ages 11, 14 and 22. In the spring, Carol's sister came to live with them. She had suffered a brain injury, which left her disabled and unable to live alone.
Since then, the sister has been sleeping in the living room while family members started to remodel the Peases' unfinished basement to make an apartment for her. The men from Grace took over the job in October. On a frigid Saturday this month, Canterbury arrived at 6:45 a.m. with his son, Michael, and David Barlow. With the help of Steve Pease, the four nailed in baseboard and finished framing the windows. The volunteers hung acoustic ceiling tiles and put up drywall.
The Peases should be able to finish the work, but without the help from Grace, "it never would've been done," said Carol Pease.
Grace's Home Improvement Ministry is funded by donations and is part of a group called Grace Cares.
An organization of 10 outreach ministries, Grace Cares includes a food pantry, a clothing locker, a grief support group, financial advisers and a benevolence fund.
"We don't want to be a church full of people who just sit in chairs," said the Rev. Mark Norman, senior pastor. He believes that every person at Grace Community has something to contribute.