TUCSON, Ariz. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Brandishing a Shop-vac nozzle, Abe Regier peered into a damp, dark hole drilled into the cement floor of the bathroom. Small streaks of sun filtered through a skylight, illuminating the small room filled with three people and a variety of power tools.
“That’s what I like about Community Home Repair. There are things that you wouldn’t expect, and you always get to try something new and do something out of the ordinary,” said Regier.
Homeowner, Lupe Montijo, and her son had attempted to solve the problem by taking out the defective tub but got stumped along the way.
“I’m so glad that they are able to do this project,” she said, offering Regier and Allen glasses of 7 Up and cookies.
Since 1982, CHRPA has been providing urgently needed home repair to low-income families in the Tucson area. Begun as a ministry of Mennonite Board of Missions (a Mennonite Mission Network predecessor agency) and Shalom Mennonite Fellowship
in Tucson, CHRPA has since grown into an independent agency, although it relies heavily on church and volunteer support.
Not only do MVSers participate, but members of SOOP
, another Christian service program for people of all ages also pitch in with home repair projects. Participants often travel south, park their mobile homes on the church lot, and spend a few weeks or months volunteering for CHRPA.
“Our goal is deliver home repair service in a compassionate, personal and cost-effective way,” said Scott Coverdale, CHRPA director. “We’re very volunteer-oriented and so we teach and learn continually as volunteers come and go.”
While none of the MVSers knew much about home repair before beginning their service term, through training on the job and learning from other staff, they now have the skills to work at plumbing, heating and cooling systems, carpentry, windows, tiling, roofing, and a variety of other tasks.
“Co-workers are always great. If you don’t ask questions, you won’t really learn. This is a really safe, supportive environment to ask those questions in,” said Bowman.
Interactions with clients have also added depth to their service experience. Clients often offer food, conversation, a donation to support the home-repair program, or other gifts to CHRPA staff. At one home Regier visited, the owner entertained the workers by playing her harmonica.
“This job is so concrete and immediate. Some days you get to go to three-or-four different jobs. You walk away from a house having fixed a furnace, and it’s just tangible. You know they’re going to have a better evening than the one before,” said Penner.
As part of their CHRPA assignment, Bowman and Penner also help to lead “Girls with Tools,” a program that meets once a week at the Zuni Avenue Peace Center
, located near the church. The program aims to empower young girls ages 8-14 to make decisions, to work together, and to learn how to use power tools.
“We try to empower these girls by teaching them to use power tools in the absence of men. When boys are around, there’s a tendency to hand over power,” said Penner.
The club grew out of another co-ed activity group that met at Zuni. Boys and girls would work together on a variety of crafts, and staff members noticed that when power tools came out, girls would often become less involved.
“This is a club for the girls and organized by them with the help of volunteers who facilitate,” said Bowman.
The “Girls with Tools” group has crafted bookshelves, candle holders, stilts, toys, cutting boards, and done tile work. They also work on projects that benefit the local community, like building a teeter-totter for the church playground.
For all of the volunteers, working for CHRPA has been a learning experience.
“I’ve gained a much better understanding of my privilege. Seeing the circumstances that many people live in makes me appreciate the opportunity to be a fulltime volunteer with paid room and board,” said Penner, who will complete her second year of MVS this summer and is planning to remain in Tucson.
“Being in MVS has made me think more about the importance of how I’m living instead of just thinking of my life in terms of my job. There’s a lot more, including community," she added.
Bowman has already committed to a second year of service with CHRPA.
“I’m really energized by the work and by my interactions with the girls. I really think that it’s important that women are empowered to fix their own stuff,” said Bowman. “I want to learn to be a good teacher, and to instruct them in a way that’s helpful and empowers them.”
Mennonite Voluntary Service, one of Mission Network’s Christian Service programs, invites adults of all ages and backgrounds to spend a one or two year term living in community and serving in a variety of locations across the United States.
The SOOP program gives adults and families of all ages a chance to use their gifts to help others. Participants choose their own location, time and length of service. They also work directly with on-site coordinators, who frequently help to arrange housing. For more information, visit Service.MennoniteMission.net.