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When more than 80 members of three local churches spent a recent Saturday painting, scraping, weeding, and repairing four houses in North Toledo, their goal was not just to fix up the buildings but also to build relationships with the homeowners.
"We get to know the people and hope for continued partnerships and relationships," said the Rev. Mary Sullivan, pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church on Madison Avenue downtown.
Volunteers from St. Paul's, Monroe Street United Methodist Church, and Sylvania First United Methodist Church teamed up for the Urban Mission Project, an outreach of the Maumee Watershed District of the United Methodist Church.
The volunteers worked on homes in "ONE Village," a neighborhood whose nickname is based on an acronym for "Old North End." The homeowners had been referred to the churches by United North, a community development agency that also provided paint and some other gear for the volunteers.
Pat Tuller, 65, of Bronson Avenue was delighted not only that the church workers spruced up her house and yard, but that they had a good time while doing it.
"Oh my, they were marvelously helpful and we had a ball. We had so much fun," Ms. Tuller said. "I haven't had so many guests in ages."
The workers sanded, scraped, and painted the floor and ceiling of her porch, painted her shutters, fixed up a sandstone half-wall, and scraped and painted the shed.
Although the volunteers were all from churches, they were never preachy or pushy about religion, she said. "We said a prayer before we started and after we quit. We did talk a little about religion, but it was because I brought it up. Everybody was so nice and they gave me a big hug when they left."
Ms. Sullivan said that's the kind of interaction she was hoping for.
"Relationships are the first step toward discipleship," she said. "St. Paul's is hoping to disciple these people. A lot of them have been down on their luck, on disability, or out of work."
A group from St. Paul's, which has about 40 members, will be following up with visits to people whose homes were worked on.
The Rev. Larry Clark, pastor of Sylvania First, said about 65 volunteers from his church pitched in last month and many of them are looking forward to doing more volunteer work this year in ONE Village.
"Our church tries to focus on three levels of mission work: local, national, and international. So an urban project in North Toledo made a lot of sense," he said.
Art Noel, a 67-year-old retired electrical engineer from Northwood who's been attending St. Paul's for nearly 50 years, served as site manager for the project.
The Rev. Karen Shepler, pastor of Monroe Street United Methodist Church, agreed that members of suburban churches can benefit from stepping out of their own neighborhoods to help people in an urban environment.
"For many of the people who are volunteering, it may be the first time they've ever been in an inner city situation, so that in itself is valuable," Ms. Shepler said. "But one of the good things about the Urban Mission Project is that a lot of the people being helped are also working with us, so it brings us from thinking about it as charity to being more of a partnership."
Terry Glazer, CEO of United North, said there are plenty of people in ONE Village who need help but don't necessarily qualify for government assistance.
"One of the things we're about is comprehensive revitalization, and it takes multiple strategies," he said. "This is very helpful. And the fact that they are talking about doing this each month means it could have an even bigger, long-term impact."
- David Yonke