Money isn't focus for FL volunteer

BY KAREN BOTHAM | CENTRAL FLORIDA | August 21, 1998


CENTRAL FLORIDA (August 21, 1998) -- Like most visitors to Central Florida, Sean Dell likes theme parks and

fishing, but on the $45 a month he gets for repairing people's homes, he

doesn't get to see many of the attractions.

The 24-year-old from Pennsylvania spends his days in the hot, steamy

Florida air on roofs, ladders or scaffolding to help people he's never met.

In return he gets a lot of thanks, but not a lot of money.

He has a bachelor of science degree in industrial arts, but he has chosen

to forgo a comfortable salary in exchange for room, board and the $45 a

month for personal items.

Money, he says, isn't what's important to him. "I can get away from the

money and live simply so others can simply live," Dell said. "I want to

help people that don't have money."

He's picked the right area. He's in the heart of Florida now because a

tornado picked the area in February and cut a swath of damage from one end

of Winter Garden, FL, to the other.

Gone now are government officials surveying the wreckage. Gone, too, are

most of the clean up crews; and the national news media left almost as soon

as they came. All that's left is the remnants of the devastation.

To the outside world everything's back to normal in this 12,000 person

bedroom community of Orlando. For many of the 600 or so residents whose

homes were damaged or destroyed, normalcy is returning thanks to adequate

insurance. But to the 32 homeowners left with no means of repairing the

damage, nothing could be farther from normal.

Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) funds, American Red

Cross grants and insurance policy payments sometimes just don't reach far

enough for the people who need the help the most.

Seven homes were completely destroyed and need to rebuilt from the

ground up; 25 others require major repairs to roofs, ceiling and walls.

Without money to hire a contractor, homeowners are having to live with

leaky roofs and saggy ceilings or try dangerous methods to fix them on

their own. One elderly man took his oxygen tank up to his roof and tried to

do the repair job

himself.

"He was a little angry," Operation Love's operating director Cheri Cowell said.

"He said 'nobody helps people like me.'" But people do help people like

him, Cowell assured him.

Operation Love is an interfaith group in Orange County whose main focus now

is on rebuilding and repairing the homes for people who simply don't have

the money to get help on their own.

Volunteers like Dell are essential, but not plentiful. He's one of the

volunteers sent by the Church of the Brethren, a denomination with a strong

emphasis on service and peace. Dell went through the Brethren Volunteer

Service Program and has agreed to work wherever needed for the next year.

He said he may even extend in the service program for another year.

"We deemed that the Florida area was where we need the most assistance on a

continuing basis," said Miller Davis, manager of the emergency

response/service ministry at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor,

Md. Dell was sent because of his construction experience, Davis said.

"I've been preparing for this for about two years," said Dell, who began

working in construction jobs to get necessary knowledge about home building

and repairing. "I enjoy helping serve people in this manner because it's

something I feel comfortable giving."

Dell's first introduction came eight years ago during a Brethren conference

in Orlando. A rebuilding project was nearby and conference attendees

donated a day to work on the projects. That lead to the discovery of the

Volunteer Service Program.

For the time being, Dell is climbing roofs and hammering nails in Winter

Garden, the "Land of Pleasant Living," as one of the few consistent

volunteers. The Church of the Brethren has supplied most of the volunteer

labor since the rebuilding efforts began in May, Cowell said.

Teams of Brethren members have come for a week or more to help. One couple

came from Germany. Other volunteers have come from cities and communities

surrounding Winter Garden, "The Land of Pleasant Living." The flow of help

isn't consistent, though. "We don't have any teams right now. For three

weeks we haven't had any volunteers," she said.

Most days it's Dell and the project supervisor doing the work of 10.

"That's really sad because there's a lot of houses," Cowell said. To put

the amount of work into perspective, a small construction company would be

considered successful if it could complete five houses in a year. Operation

Love, has, in

essence, become a construction company with seven homes to build and 25 to

repair.

In fact, Cowell estimates the rebuilding and repairing efforts won't be

finished until August 1999, and that's with a full slate of volunteers

working seven days a week.

"That's a long time; without volunteers it could be three years," Cowell said.

"There are people out there that will come; they just don't know about us yet."

Homes in nearby Seminole and Osceola counties were also damaged, but the residents either had enough insurance or have not finished the bureaucratic process o

f applying for aid. The rebuilds for many of the uninsured or underinsured

are months away from beginning, Cowell said.

Operation Love is using Habitat for Humanity floor plans and construction

supervisors for the projects. They can build a four-bedroom, two-bath home

for $40,000.

Cowell said the group will need $420,000 to finish all 32 projects and

that's with materials being sold at-cost by local building supply firms.

But more than money, Cowell said they need volunteers. Cowell visits those

whose homes are still in need of repair and comes away with a sadness.

"There is nothing over here to help them. These people don't have any other

way," she said.

One elderly woman is living in a home with plastic covering the holes in

her roof. Although it keeps most of the water out, it traps all the heat

in. The woman doesn't have the means to keep the house cool.

Although saddened by those stories, it also reaffirms her belief in what

she's doing. "When we talk about being where Christ wants us, this is it.

You can't go to this woman's house and not know this is where Christ would

be," Cowell said.

Posted August 21, 1998


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