For a Hearts & Hammers volunteer crew, the hardship of working in pouring rain symbolizes the adversity confronting homeowners Beverly and Bob Pearce of Freeland.
Over the last 18 months, the Pearces dealt with the prospect of Bob succumbing to complications from prostate cancer and difficulty getting care during the pandemic isolation. Setting out on outdoor projects at the house last Saturday, Kent McCord told his crew, “A little rain will not stop us from finishing this much needed deck.”
Bob is widely and fondly known around South Whidbey as “Bob of All Trades.” After a long career in construction, he and Beverly moved to the modest house on Fish Road in 2008. She told McCord it is a big joy to get outside and work in the yard.
“It’s a real advantage to be chosen for a Hearts & Hammers project,” said Beverly. “After Bob returned from radiation rehab, he badly needed a ramp to get in and out.”
The volunteer organization, with participation from people with many skills, operates on the theme of “Restoring Homes, Touching Lives.” Throughout the year, Hearts & Hammers arranges projects to repair or rehabilitate houses for people who can’t do the work themselves because of physical or financial adversity.
“We had been slowly making the house ready for our retirement,” Beverly explained. “Then Bob got really sick from the radiation treatment. We were just functioning day to day. He was in very poor condition and we thought he was about to die.”
While the couple doesn’t know exactly what the prognosis is for Bob, he says “this is home.”
Beverly said the workers arrived, asked her what she needed, and got right to the task. McCord says the crew hauled two pickup loads of debris after mowing and weeding to make the front yard presentable.
The crew also started building a small deck and ramp at the rear. “This will really give Bob more independence,” Beverly remarked.
When the sky opened up with rain, hail and lightning, McCord quickly dispatched someone to Ace Hardware for a large tarp. Resourcefully, he engineered and built a shelter to allow construction to continue without interruption. One observer said McCord might have been inspired by how the Pearces face difficulty.
Beverly said she’s also fortunate and grateful to have the support of the community and Trinity Lutheran Church. The neighborhood, she said, is “a very close place where people check on each other and try to help any way they can.”
McCord is a construction worker in his “day job.” He said it’s encouraging to see a crew of nine volunteers, with varying capabilities, arrive at a site, take minimal directions and jump into the task. He said he felt honored to lead an enthusiastic crew.
“It’s amazing how people just show up to help,” Beverly observed.
In addition to the yard clean-up and the ramp, workers also installed a sturdy metal railing on the front steps of the Pearce house.
Heavy rain posed difficulty for two dozen other Hearts & Hammers projects scheduled Saturday. Early in the day, weather was mostly sunny. When a deluge rolled in about mid-morning, workers scrambled for shelter and projects stalled or were postponed. Linda Irvine of Hearts & Hammers said a lot of work was planned outdoors because of COVID precautions, so some jobs didn’t get done.
Irvine said the projects this year ranged from clearing downed trees to replacing an entire bathroom floor. The wetlands behind the South Whidbey Community Center got a new kiosk and mulch around the entrance. Some of the volunteers were seventh grade students from the Alternative Learning Experience school. Workers also made improvements at Good Cheer Gardens in Bayview.
Indoor work is more typical, Irvine said, based on the mission of keeping people safe and healthy. In cooperation with the Red Cross, Hearts & Hammers also distributes and installs smoke alarms.
This was the first work day in three years, but the community breakfast and dinner after work were canceled because of COVID concerns. Each work site got snacks and sack lunches.
Hearts & Hammers is a completely volunteer agency, operating on funds raised from various activities during the year, donations, and a grant from Goosefoot Foundation. There is no charge to homeowners for labor and materials. Anyone willing to work can volunteer for a multitude of tasks.
South Whidbey Hearts & Hammers started in 1994, sponsored initially by Langley United Methodist Church. Over 300 volunteers work on as many as 35 jobs each year.
There are other Hearts & Hammer organizations in Central and North Whidbey, and in localities around the country.
For further information or to volunteer, call 360-221-6063, or see www.heartsandhammers.com.
David Welton contributed to this story.