I want to tell you the story of how I was involved in doing a Home Makeover project this past year. It got in the local news. We had a video producer travel in to cover the story for our denomination in North America. We mobilized over a hundred volunteers. Lowes got involved. It made a big impact in the community.
Don’t worry. I’m also going to share some of the failures and lessons we learned with this initiative; some significant ones.
But first, let me give some back-story and share how my first attempt failed.
In this post, I share some of the history; my first attempts at getting to know this community. Eventually, we started an initiative called GO: Projects in which once a month we do some kind of service project in the community. We’ve done things like fixing and painting a playground for a local elementary public school in the inner city, giving free haircuts for kids before picture day, raking leaves for elderly—a lot of different things. But one that had always been on my radar was to do something home related; something bigger.
Stevan Mirkovich was my original inspiration. At the time he was the pastor of the Cornerstone Seventh-day Adventist Church, and they had an initiative called the Home Team. That was a 501c3, which their church ended up forming to facilitate these home makeover projects. Check out some of their unveiling videos here and here. He was also kind enough to share their overall process here.
What went wrong?
Here at Pioneer Memorial Church, I have seminary students who work with me. Seminary students have to do what’s called a TFE (Theological Field Education) at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University. It counts as academic credit for them. In essence, they have to intern under a pastor who mentors them and gets them involved in ministry for one year. TFE students are a tremendous blessing and I really enjoy mentoring them and partnering with them in ministry. Other students and leaders are involved in our GO Projects, but TFE students each take lead for a particular month’s project.
The problem is that I had assigned one student who would be lead on this particular project. Even though we had nine months to prepare, it was too much for one person. We failed. I take the responsibility.
Two years later I called up Pastor Taurus Montgomery. He pastors the Harbor of Hope Church, a daughter church of PMC. He’s part of the PMC pastoral team. I called him to see if there was a home we could show some love to in Benton Harbor; perhaps touching up some paint or doing some landscaping.
“Actually, there are about 40 homes,” he responded. At that moment it became clear that if we were going to try to address this issue, we’d need to get a lot more churches involved. And that’s when a new vision was born. What if, we thought, there was a day in the year in which all the area churches got together to work on some homes?
How we finally pulled off a makeover project
Ok, all of that is background. It’s important to understand the context behind it all. Before I list the steps, allow me to confess that I’m under no impression that this is the absolute best way to do it. This is simply how we did it.
1. Get other churches and leaders involved
I reached out to Ron Kelley, the pastor of the Village Adventist Church, and he brought this idea to the other pastors in the area. All of them thought it was a great idea, and five of them agreed to be part of a specific leadership team to make something happen. The core leadership team was Taurus Montgomery, myself, Phil Mills, Ron Kelly, with Robin Paquette joining soon after. Together we formed the core planning team. Other people would come in and meet with us on occasion, but we were always there.
2. A joint vision requires a new name
Since this is something we were doing together, it wouldn’t make sense to call this a GO: Project. Together, we brainstormed and voted on a new name for this ministry initiative—Our Two Cents. It was based upon the story of the widow who gave her two cents. The idea is that we can all contribute something.
3. It takes more time than you think
We met almost every single week for a period of about 7 months to pull this off. There are hundreds of little details. You won’t be able to pull this off if you’re meeting once a month.
4. Identify the homes
We got a list of homes from two areas. First, the city had a list of people who had applied for grants to have repair work done in their homes. For one reason or another, the people on this list didn’t get accepted and the city made these names available to us. Second, Taurus Montgomery had put out an ad and people called in with requests for people to work on their home.
This stage can take a lot of time. When I first tried to do it, we ended up going down a lot of rabbit holes.
4. Divide the labor
Once we had whittled the homes down to a manageable size, we worked on dividing the labor. Each pastor was responsible for finding a few General Contractors or similar in each of their churches. The pastor and the General Contractor would then make more in-depth site visits to determine what would be needed to accomplish the project.
5. In the end, each church was assigned one home
Actually, two days before the project was to begin, we discovered that we weren’t going to be able to work on the home Pioneer Memorial Church had been assigned. Most of the roofing volunteers in the area had already been assigned to a different home, so we had to pull out. This still bothers me.
Because of that, I ended up partnering with Pastor Phil Mills of the Fairplain Church, which is the best thing that could have happened.
6. If the project is larger, assign two pastors or more to one home
I was so glad this ended up happening because we both needed the extra support. This ended up being the house with the most work needed. We ended up providing her with a new kitchen, carpet, landscaping, and paint job inside the house.
7. The community wants to be involved
Lowes ended up giving us the kitchen cabinets for the new kitchen at a radically reduced price. In fact, they told us that if we wanted to do this again, they’d make their employees available to work! Communities and local businesses want to be involved. Another local business ended up completely donating the tiles for this home.
8. Before you do a big project, do a few smaller ones
This was really important for us. There were a lot of work flow and volunteer management issues that needed to be worked out and it helped to work out the kinks on some small projects.
9. Remember that the project will always end up larger than you think
The home we worked on didn’t get finished on that day. There ended up being a delay in the cabinets being delivered. We really ended up biting off more than we could chew.
10. Ideally, the home owner wouldn’t be at home
There’s a reason why Extreme Home Makeover sends the homeowner in vacation somewhere. If the homeowner is there, more issues arise—they’re seeing their home get worked on; they have questions; special requests come up. She was great, but it ended up slowing down the process. Ideally, the homeowner would not be there.
11. Have a volunteer recruitment plan
There are three things we did to recruit volunteers. First, we took footage of the smaller project we had done. You can see it here:
By the way, two teenagers made this video. They did an amazing job. Every year I get more and more convinced about the power and impact of video. I write more about it here, but video helps people to live the experience for a few moments. That’s why I’ve determined to capture footage of just about everything I do because I later end up making a video that I show to the church in a video report. Don’t tell people about the great results of their giving; show them.
Second, we put up a simple website where we could share the vision with volunteers and people we met. This also made a big difference when approaching businesses. We could point them to the website, which gave the initiative a sense of legitimacy. Finally, each of the pastors did a big appeal day in all of the churches of our area. We showed the video, used a simple bulletin insert, and asked people to go to the website to sign up to volunteer for the day.
11. Start with a joint celebration
The day of, we started with a joint gathering at one of the churches with around 120 volunteers. There, we had some worship time together and celebrated what God had done to bring us and the community together. We also gave final instructions, handed out gloves, and finally drove to our various sites.
What about funding?
Funding is always a big issue. Buying supplies takes money. This would not have been possible without a grant from the office of Jose Cortes Jr of the Compassion Movement, one of the initiatives he oversees. We had local giving, businesses gave, but we also needed the extra funding.
Are there some things we’d do differently? Of course. This was a learning experience for us. We want to make this an annual event, not a one-off. We need to think through other forms of funding.
Lots of things we’d do differently, but I think here’s the major lesson: do something.
Make lots of mistakes while making a difference, but above all, do something. Everyone crawls and walks before they run. So go, because God needs you to reveal what He’s actually like through what you do.
So what do you think? Questions? Comments? Let me know below.