Men's Breakfast Report, May 2009

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, May 9th with Ralph Hendricks, leader of The Carpenter’s Hands.  Ralph’s father was a contractor so he became a contractor as a young adult.  Later he went to work for Dow.  He had been a member of the First United Methodist Church of Lake Jackson for a long time but not actively involved in any ministry.  Several years ago he participated in a Walk to Amaus and decided to become actively involved with some ministry. 

He decided that with his experience as a contractor he could set up a program to help people by repairing their houses.  He recruited a couple of other members of his church and the program was started.  The program has expanded greatly and now has members from many different churches.  The major focus of the program is repair of houses for people who can not afford to make the repairs themselves.  In addition, the group has a monthly prayer meeting and planning session at the First Methodist Church of Lake Jackson.  Ralph believes that the religious devotions and the service are both necessary for the group and the individual members’ growth. 

The primary service of the group is to repair houses of people who need help.  They perform all sorts of remodeling, carpentry, drywall painting, plumbing and electrical.  One of their members is a licensed electrician who can supervise electrical work.  They also replace roofs, but try to avoid it because of the age of the members and the physical effort required.  They did more roofs when John Smith was able to recruit Dow employees and provide a forklift to get the shingles to the roof.  They do not do construct complete houses since this is the mission of Habitat for Humanity and most of the members of Carpenter’s Hands are also volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.  They only work on houses that are owned by the occupants.  Fortunately there are many relatively poor people who own their houses in Brazosport.  Bernard Scrogin said that in Galveston most of the low cost housing is owned by a small group of landlords so elaborate deals have to be worked out to help these people instead of enriching the landlord when volunteers repair housing. 

Most of the work is done in Freeport and Clute.  These cities waive inspection fees and are cooperative with permits and inspections.  Lake Jackson is not very cooperative so few projects are done there.

Ralph’s experience in construction enables him to estimate the cost of any proposed project in terms of labor and money.  Materials are purchased with donations and with contributions from the people helped.  At present the group is more limited by people than money.  One case he described was of a family where a single mother of three and the grandmother were living in a two bedroom house.  The woman married a co-worker which made for five people living in the house.  Both earners are near minimum wage employees of the hospital.  They asked the Hands to add a couple of bedrooms to the house.  The hands said that it would take $5,000 in materials and suggested that the family get a mortgage to pay for them.  The family refused to take on any debt so the project was put on hold.  The family recently called and said that they had saved the $5,000 and wanted the work done.  The Hands are now finishing up this project. 

The members of the Hands are primarily retired men.  This gives them the time to work on the projects during the week.  However, they do need younger men and women because of the physical demands of construction work.  Most of the volunteers come from mainline Protestant churches, which means that the pool of volunteers is also primarily elderly.  This brought the question of how to get people from other churches with a younger membership to join.  Frank Moreno, whose church was helped by the Hands, said that he would try to get some men from his church, Iglesia Baptista, to participate.  Tony Barnard said he would also talk to some people at his church, Saint Michael’s Catholic Church.  Unfortunately no black churches were represented at this meeting.  Ralph said that meeting directly with some of these churches like he was meeting with us might bring them on board. 

As usual, the men had an interesting discussion and a good meal.  The next breakfast will be June 13 with George Kidwell, chairman of the Velasco Drainage District, as featured guest.