As executive director of Providence Housing Development Corp., Monica McCullough strives daily to provide better housing for people in need — yet the hands-on portion of this effort has been rather foreign to her.
That all changed the week of March 26-30. McCullough and other employees of Providence, as well as LeCesse Construction Corp., traveled from Rochester to donate staff time for Tioga County-area residents affected by last summer’s flooding of the Susquehanna River.
According to McCullough, there were 50 volunteers in all, many of whom worked every day such as herself. They made repairs on seven houses in Owego and one each in the neighboring communities of Apalachin and Nichols. The work was done at no cost to the homeowners. In addition, Providence and LeCesse got several construction-related firms to donate cash and supplies.
Work teams performed such repair duties as sheet-rock and drywall installation, masonry, trim work and insulating. Some of the workers had expertise in construction and construction management, and others such as McCullough were raw rookies.
“It was a good opportunity to roll up our sleeves and work side by side,” McCullough said, adding with a laugh, “I hauled a lot of trash. I got reasonably skilled at backing up a pickup truck.”
McCullough reported varying degrees of need, saying that in some houses “the homeowners were almost done and needed that little boost of inspiration,” whereas others were “so overwhelmed they didn’t know where to start. Then other folks had been helping the neighbors around them, and hadn’t had a chance to get started on their own homes.”
“It was so rewarding to do the work,” she remarked. “Our mission (at Providence) is ‘building communities from the foundation up’ and there’s no better way to live out that mission. We had such a great time, I felt like when we left we should be thanking everyone.”
Providence Housing creates and provides access to quality affordable housing in many parts of the diocese. The firm works in collaboration with Catholic Charities agencies and other Catholic institutions, and has partnered with LeCesse Construction on several projects.
According to McCullough, the idea to assist in Tioga County was based on similar efforts being done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Houses in Tioga with the greatest need were identified by Angela Klopf, director of Tioga Outreach, a Waverly-based division of Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga.
Klopf also was on hand all week for the special work project. She said the volunteers’ help was greatly welcomed.
“People stated this gave them that boost of hope so they could get back in their homes,” Klopf said, also noting that for some residents the work “has got them to a point that they can do the rest on their own.”
Yet Klopf emphasized that there’s still a long way to go.
“People think that 10 months later everybody must be OK — that’s certainly not the case,” she said, explaining that many residents are still staying in apartments or with family or friends. They must contend with such difficulties as crowded conditions, rent payments on top of regular mortgage payments, and increased transportation expenses due to being further displaced from their jobs and homes. Klopf observed that these additional expenses come “at a time they most need to stretch their money to continue rebuilding their homes.”
Other volunteer work crews, leaving from the parking lot of St. Patrick’s Church in Owego, have been going out on Saturdays in recent months. McCullough said several people from Providence and LeCesse are interested in continuing their commitment by joining the Saturday groups. The next such work date will be May 12. Anybody interested in volunteering should call the Tioga Outreach Center at 607/565-7580 or toll free at 866/326-1373.