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Building blocks

Housing ministry in Maine builds relationships more important than dwellings

October 14, 2014

House shown with new siding

NPHM volunteers are putting new siding on this home, owned by a family who adopted a special needs child. —Photo by Ed Jesteadt/NPHM

STATESVILLE, N.C.

If you think housing ministry is only about the physical work of repairing houses for the needy, the people of the North Parish Housing Ministry (NPHM) have testimonials from mission work participants that tell a different story.

NPHM is a housing ministry serving the Franklin County area of western Maine in Northern New England Presbytery and sponsored by Mission at the Eastward (MATE), a group in West Central Maine formed in 1954 to support the ministries of several small, rural Presbyterian congregations. MATE was designed to allow small churches to do more by working together. 

According to Ed Jesteadt, formerly from Flemington, N.J., who came to Maine with his church mission trippers for 11 years before retiring to the area and volunteering with NPHM, the area of central western Maine served by NPHM was formerly industrial, but has lost the logging and shoe industries that once supported it to other regions with better resources and cheaper labor.

The result is an economically depressed region with a population which lacks the resources to move elsewhere, and in many cases to do basic maintenance on the homes they have.

The basis of what NPHM does, according to Program Director Ken White, is to “help folks stay in their homes, through the housing ministry, to help stay insulated, make sure their roof’s not leaking and such, because if they can’t afford to do that, then they’re forced to become a victim of the state if you will, to go into assisted living and things of that nature.”

“We’re a group that provide labor and material to folks in need. We focus on elderly veterans and disabled,” says White. “We do between 80 and 100 projects a year and we have between three and four hundred volunteers who come from up and down the east coast to perform the work.”

Jesteadt says they host between 12 and 15 mission teams over the months of June, July and August. Some of these come every year or two and others come just one time. 

“Our budget is around $75,000 every summer for materials and staff like Ken White, and the budget that we get and spend is principally from work teams — money paid by them to come up and work for a week,” says Jesteadt. “We ask the work teams for a donation of funds to pay for materials and such. As a non-profit, we can’t bill, but we do ask for contributions.”

Jesteadt says the groups have been exceedingly generous in their contributions over the years, and this year one regular group from Camp Hill, Pa., even brought a 2014 diesel powered pickup truck as a gift to NPHM, a replacement for a similar truck the same group had donated in 2000.

“All that comes from these work teams that come up here what we call “from away.” That, says Jesteadt, “is Mainer speak for people who aren't Mainers.”

{{image 1}}White says the clients that apply to the housing ministry for help are usually older, sometimes widows or widowers, or disabled veterans, and often they are also somewhat isolated or lonely. So ministry’s not just about the work, but also about the human interaction and the relationships formed between residents and mission team workers.

Many of the mission teams are youth-focused. One of the young persons who visited this summer from a church in Massachusetts was moved to write a testimonial about her experience working with area residents, including a disabled veteran and a family with two young children who’d endured considerable adversity in their lives.

“That testimony is one of so many that you read. The relationships that are built are ongoing through the years,” says White. “This is not the first occasion, I might add, where the relationship continues on. They write these children letters and the children correspond back. As a matter of fact I just saw that client this morning and she told me that the letters keep coming and it has brightened up the children’s lives.”

White says that is the real focus of the mission. The relationships being built, in his opinion, really supersede the work being done. The clients value the work and need the repairs, but both the clients and the volunteers benefit far more from the connection and the personal relationships they build.

“I think once you’ve been here you can’t walk away and how true that is. The gratification is just incredible. There’s just no measure there,” says White. “The testimonies continue to come, the work continues to come, the need continues to grow and by us spreading the good word, the Good News if you will, it just continues to grow.”

Toni Montgomery is a free-lance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she also serves as church secretary for First Presbyterian Church of Statesville. She is a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.