The East Toledo home of Deborah Smith, where she has lived for nearly 50 years, is immaculate and charming, except for a bathroom wall in a state of disrepair.
For today's kickoff event of the New Heights Fellowship Church's Gratitude Project, a swarm of 30 to 35 volunteers is to descend on the quiet house to fix the bathroom, organize the garage, and plant an apple tree in the yard.
Back in March, April McGuire, a New Heights Fellowship churchgoer, started preparations for the church's Gratitude Project, which seeks to match volunteers eager to gain work experience with local residents struggling to find the resources to improve their homes.
Mrs. McGuire came up with the idea in a burst of what she sees as divine inspiration. "I think God is working through me to do this project," she said timidly.
The New Heights Fellowship congregation enthusiastically agreed to help bring the vision to life and hastened preparations to help the Smiths with their bathroom.
A year ago, Mrs. Smith and her husband, Terry Smith, had started renovating it, but their poor health forced them to halt the project midway.
"We started it, and we thought we'd be able to finish it, but now we have too much other stuff going on," said Mrs, Smith, as Mr. Smith, who has emphysema, gestured to the oxygen tubes that protruded from his nostrils and snaked across the living room floor.
The project leaders hope fixing up properties of residents such as the Smiths will make them feel appreciated and encourage pride in the community.
"We want to make people feel more confident about their neighborhood. We want people to have homes that they're proud to live in and that are functional," said Ormsby McGuire, who assists his wife with the project.
The volunteers for today's event come from diverse backgrounds, such as the Toledo Zoo's ZOOteens program. Dan Stevenson, the pastor of New Heights Fellowship, estimated that six young men from New Heights Fellowship who are struggling to find work will show up.
"Many unemployed people are willing to work as volunteers to create an employment history," he said.
"We're hoping to help fill that time between jobs with something productive they can put on their resumes," added Mr. McGuire.
"If you go up to an employer and you have six months of unemployment, that can be hard to explain."
A Gratitude Project volunteer would gain some training for a range of marketable skills, such as yard work, house cleaning, and basic construction, as well as references that might make him or her more attractive to employers, Mr. McGuire said.
The Gratitude Project also has the larger goal of fostering economic development by making Toledo an attractive city for companies to put down roots.
"We're fearful of companies choosing to go other places," Mr. McGuire said. "The idea is to enhance properties and beautify the community to improve overall public opinion of Toledo."
This mission has resonated with local businesses that have generally been eager to give support.
"We provided assistance in hopes that it will help get the community back up and running and keep everything on the up and up," said Melissa Whitaker, an employee of the Home Depot home improvement store on U.S. 20 in Rossford, which donated supplies for today.
The Gratitude Project is funded solely by donations from residents and contributions from local companies, ranging from cleaning supplies to flowers to construction materials.
By the year's end, the Gratitude Project plans to complete four other larger-scale charity events on par with the renovations at the Smiths' home.
The volunteers will also keep busy with many small projects, such as fixing minor plumbing problems and mowing lawns.
To learn more or get involved, call Pastor Stevenson: 419-469-8808.
Contact Sophie Broach at: email@example.com or 419-724-6210.