On Halloween Day our A Brush With Kindness program wrapped up its inaugural season. It was exceedingly eventful and profitable for all parties involved. Despite our greenhorn status, SCV-Habitat rolled invincibly through our first season like Tarkus through the Iconoclast. Your humble editor was fortunate enough to have been present at all five projects this summer and autumn, so let us now briefly recap each project to better gauge the breadth of our achievements.
First of all, we must begin by honoring the man who made all of this possible, the magnanimous Dennis "Denny" Schmidt. True, a program like A Brush With Kindness cannot succeed without scores of dedicated individuals, but Dennis Schmidt is the man behind it all, ensuring that the materials are procured, the volunteers are safely guided in their work, and the paperwork is properly filled out. Congratulation Denny on a splendid ABWK season.
Project One: The Ashwood Family Band
Molly and Chris Ashwood have already been the subject of a Habitat News Tribune issue, but let us take a moment to revisit this musical family. Chris Ashwood, a legally blind musician and Molly Ashwood, a substitute music teacher, came to SCV-Habitat with a list of improvements to their home in Hudson that they were having difficulty securing the capital for due to the erratic nature of their income. Denny was eager to cut his teeth on his first project, so he deftly solicited the assistance of Home Depot, The River Church, and St. Bridget's Catholic Church, and the project was ready to roll on August 1st. In the insightful words of the rock band America, "the heat was hot" during the Ashwood project, but the plucky volunteers carried on their happy labor undaunted. Upon completion of the project the entire house was painted, decaying fascia board and dormer siding were replaced, rain gutters were installed, a dead tree was felled, a bathroom vent was repaired, and a hole in the siding was patched.
Project Two: Fred Volkmann
Fred Volkmann is a retiree and a veteran living in River Falls. The work to be done was relatively modest, but certainly important. The porch and back step needed painting, and the mulch and edging around the house needed replacing. As the project was local and relatively limited in scope, it was decided that in addition to the volunteers from First Congregational United Church of Christ, the SCV-Habitat office staff would roll up their sleeves and put in some work. And put in work we did, the project took just a day and a half, and Fred continued to visit with the office in the subsequent weeks and months. In fact, I recently interviewed Fred about his project, so please read on to get the straight dope on this fascinating man.
Project Three: Urma Goodman
Our next project sent us all the way to the curious and exotic land of New Richmond. Urma and her daughter Katie had some much needed repairs, but were having trouble financing them. Fortuitously we had been contacted by the UW-River Falls women's basketball team mere weeks before Urma's project was slated to begin. Fortune truly smiled upon us as these ladies completed this project in a mere two and a half days, bolstered by the ranks of the Faith Community Church. When all was said and done the entire house was painted, the front porch was stained, a heavy tarp was installed as a windbreak to keep ice from building up in the breezeway during winter, the garage door was put on track, a new lock set was installed on the rear entry door, two large boulders were removed from the yard, and the driveway was replaced.
Project Four: Gwen Wittmer
Gwen is a cancer survivor who lives way out in Downing, Wisconsin. She has a trailer home that needed a new paint job with an attached porch that had seen its fair share of better days and needed to be replaced with a deck. This would be our farthest trek yet, all the way into the mystical land of Dunn County. But never ones to let boarders get in the way of the common good, Dennis and I made the harrowing sojourn across county lines to join volunteers from Thrivent Financial, the Lions Club, and Holy Cross Lutheran Church. The last two days of the project that I was fortunate enough to be present for were without a doubt the coldest on record for this season of ABWK. But we slogged on like Napoleon's army through Russia, the key difference in metaphor being that our small army of volunteers emerged victorious in the three day battle for Gwen's new deck. Also I would hazard to bet that we were quite a bit more chipper than Napoleon's army. In any event, the war has not yet been fully won, as we are slated to install two new awnings this winter and build a new back stoop in the spring.
Bonus project: Grace Termott
Shortly after our first ABWK season officially ended Denny was contacted by Grace Termott, an elderly woman in River Falls. Grace wanted to know if we could help her make a safety improvement to her enclosed porch. Grace had been using a makeshift step that was neither secure nor wide enough to safely accommodate her walker. Denny, being the lionhearted chap that he is, leapt at the opportunity to help someone in need, despite the ABWK season being technically over. Thus, Dennis and I embarked to the Eco Village and set about the joyful work of fashioning a safe mechanism of egress out of Eco Village scrap lumber. Dennis and I are an unstoppable duo, like Lennon and McCartney (if you're a Baby Boomer), or Murtaugh and Riggs (if you're a Gen Xer), or Rizer and Bean (if you're a Millennial), and thus the new step was constructed in a mere afternoon. We installed Grace's step immediately after its construction, and the look on Grace's face when we informed her that this was a pro bono project, well, if only you could have seen it, dear reader, that look of relief and gratitude sums up the ABWK season far better than any of my words ever could.
Thank you to Dennis Schmidt, all of our phenomenal volunteers, our fantastic church groups, Thrivent Financial, Home Depot, Fitzgerald Lawn Care, Century 21 Realty, UW-River Falls, the SCV-Habitat staff, and everyone else who has had a hand in making our first season of ABWK a smashing success. Great work everyone.
Also thank you to the Ashwoods, Fred Volkmann, Urma Goodman, Gwen Wittmer, Grace Termott, and all of their friends and family who helped with ABWK. Everyone was exceptionally accommodating, pleasant, and neighborly throughout the entire process, and it brings us a profound sense of elation that we were able to be of service to such fine folks.