New England group lends a hand

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 24, 2005

“I feel that this is a worthwhile experience in all possible aspects. It is helping me become more spiritually involved,” Eric Westin said.

“This is so rewarding,” Amelia Micheli said. “I did not know what to expect, but the people have been so friendly and nice to us.”

Westin and Micheli are two of the 27 youth and seven adults from the Belmont Religious Council who came to Selma as part of their organization’s outreach mission.

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“We are a group of 17 houses of worship in Belmont Mass., right outside of Boston,” said Karen Ingwersen. “We have four congregations here with us this week.”

The group arrived in Selma on February 19 armed not only with ladders, paint, paneling, and other tools of restoration, but with a true need to inspire and be inspired.

“Although this is our fourth mission trip, this is our first time in Selma,” said Ingwersen.

“We love it tremendously. The people of Selma are so faith filled, and we received such a warm welcome.”

According to Rabbi Jonathan Kraus, the group will have completed work on five or six houses by the time they leave Saturday. “We work through an organization called Volunteer for Communities,” said Kraus. “Our goal is to come and do work and also have a chance to get to know the community. We not only build houses, but we build bridges (among people).”

The students participating in this effort are actually on a winter break from high school. “Students volunteer, or are chosen through their congregation,” said Kraus. “Students who choose to spend their February vacation in this way are here for the right reason.”

With the help of the adult volunteers, the students, whose day begins at roughly 8:30 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m., scrape old paint off the houses, paint the interior and exterior walls, put up paneling, and move old appliances and other debris from the yards.

However, the student volunteers were given the opportunity to soak up a bit of the culture and history. “Most kids studied civil rights in school,” said Kraus. “But to talk to people who lived it, is a privilege.” In addition to touring Selma, the students were taken to Montgomery for a much needed rest.

“We got to see the capital and the steps where King spoke,” said Kraus. “It was very moving.”

“I feel like we are doing a marvelous job,” said Dave Fulford, Executive Director of the Blackbelt and Central Alabama Housing Authority (BCAHA). “To see people’s expressions when they see these very much needed repairs to their homes (is great).

Established in 2002, the purpose of the BCAHA is to provide decent housing for low income and elderly residents in the blackbelt counties and central Alabama.

Fulford became aware of the Belmont Religious Council and their outreach missions during a Volunteer for Communities conference.

“The volunteers brought their own tools and materials for the houses,” said Fulford. “They will leave them behind to be used for future projects.

According to Fulford, the students, in addition to repairing the homes, go to local day care centers each morning to work with the children there. “The have given out manipulatives for the day care centers, pampers, and other supplies,” said Fulford.

His wife, Quincia, echoes his sentiments. “I feel wonderful about it,” said Mrs. Fulford. “It is great to know that other people care about your situation and are willing to give time, materials, and effort to help.”

Fulford would like to thank Brown Chapel AME, Ebenezer Baptist, Helping Hands Evangelistic Outreach Ministry, Tabernacle of Praise, and Temple Gate Seventh Day Adventist Church for assisting with this effort. “Each night, the volunteers attend a different church,” said Fulford. “These churches provide a worship service, dinner, and transportation. He would also like to thank International Paper, Regions Bank, Henry Brick Company, Alabama Gas, Flowers Bakery, Pepsi, and the members of churches for providing material and/or monetary donations.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said with a smile. “We will be bringing another group of volunteers to Selma next month and in the summer.” Fulford intends to expand his organizations efforts to other counties, but as he said “you must take care of home first.”

For more information about the Blackbelt and Central Alabama Housing Authority, please contact Fulford at (334) 872-2305.