By SHEILA OJENDYK
GREENVILLE Parishioners at St. Mary’s Church gasped when Hank Chardos described the elderly woman’s dilapidated home, a house he and a team of volunteers would be repairing the following Saturday as part of Columbia’s Christmas in April.
Chardos was visiting St. Mary the weekend of April 17-18 to recruit volunteers for Home Works, a program he organized in which teens and adult mentors do home repairs for the elderly poor, many of whom live in substandard housing. Home Works welcomes teen and adult volunteers, male and female, skilled and not so skilled. He emphasized to the congregation, “It doesn’t make any difference if you don’t know one end of a hammer from the other.” Knowledgeable volunteers teach teens how to do repairs ranging from hanging Sheetrock to laying floors.
Home Works has no paid staff. Everything is run by volunteers, and much of the building material is donated.
Christmas in April was a one-day blitz on April 24 sponsored by Senior Resources (formerly the Council on Aging). Chardos has one-week sessions scheduled this summer in Chapin and St. Paul, Va., on June 20 to 27, Greenville on July 11 to 18 and John’s Island June 25 to Aug. 1. A second blitz in Columbia is planned for October.
Local outreach programs contact Home Works about needy homeowners, none of whom can afford to pay for repairs or have family members who can help them. Chardos, or one of his associates, previews each home, assesses what needs to be done, evaluates what materials and equipment will be required, and determines how many people will be needed to do the job.
Home Works is a spiritual program. A typical day for a teen volunteer begins at 6:30 a.m. with prayers and a Communion service in the gymnasium they call home for the week. They also say a prayer with the homeowner before beginning their day’s work. Volunteers work hard but have plenty of refreshments during the day. All meals are provided. They don’t go out for entertainment in the evening. Instead, they play cards, hear talks from local outreach people, and finish the day by saying the rosary. A priest comes to offer the sacrament of reconciliation, and the homeowners they have helped return the favor by feeding them dinner on Saturday night.
Chardos reports that teens finish their week with Home Works enthusiastic and ready to do it again. He describes Home Works as a “life-changing experience” that gives teens an opportunity to put their faith into action. Some teens return every summer, and several have gained the expertise to become team leaders themselves.
Chardos got the idea for Home Works after his daughter volunteered for a similar, Methodist-run program about 10 years ago. She was very impressed. When she returned the following year, Chardos joined her. He and his family then made annual trips to John’s Island and James Island to do home repairs. He decided to bring the concept to the Catholic Church and founded Home Works four years ago. Teens told their friends about Home Works, and teen volunteers now come from other Christian faiths as well.
Home Works maintains a web site, http://www.geocities.com/heartland/pointe/2824.
A youth minister from Albuquerque, N.M., discovered Home Works while looking for a service project for her teen group. She contacted Chardos and made arrangements for her group of 20 teens to come to the Greenville work session.
Chardos can be reached at (803) 781-4536 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.