Celebrating 1,000: Kids from around the U.S. are in Butler County this week for an inspiring reason

A nonprofit effort to repair homes for owners who can’t do the work themselves and bring young adults from around the country to Butler County has reached a milestone while making efforts to improve swaths of neighborhoods.

Residents like Eddie Simmons says that even though these are “cynical times,” when he looks outside his front window, what he sees — young volunteers, complete strangers from hundreds of miles away — changes his perspective.

“It’s refreshing to see that kind of things happen,” said Simmons, 70. “These kids are something else. They have interest at heart other than their own. They are sincere.”

This week, more than 300 young adults from eight states have been in Butler County as part of a week-long effort to conduct home repairs for 27 homeowners. Sponsored by Group Mission Trips (a Colorado-based international nonprofit) and co-sponsored by Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF), the effort helps low-income homeowners who do not have the physical and financial means to repair their homes.

The organization is celebrating its 1,000th home repair this morning at a residence in the 600 block of Seventh Avenue in Middletown.

Jeffrey Diver, executive director of SELF, said when projects are being completed, those renovations can create a “ripple effect” and neighboring residents make repairs to their homes.

The Group Mission Trips blitz week is part of year-round SELF’s Neighbors Who Care: Home Repair Program, a volunteer-driven home repair project that helps around 100 Butler County homeowners each year.

This year’s effort will combine hundreds of volunteers from across the country and local volunteers from Breiel Boulevard Church of God in Middletown, who are committing at least 12,000 hours of free labor to benefit 27 Butler County families.

On Thursday, volunteers from church youth groups were busy building wooden steps where concrete steps were demolished and painting the detached garage. Eddie and Judy Simmons often care for their grandchildren despite having health issues. She recently had heart valves replaced, and he nearly died a year and a half ago due to complications from a blood pressure medication.

Those health concerns delayed home repairs, he said.

“Now they’re being taken care of,” Simmons said.

Several times a day, Simmons has checked on the volunteers like they were his kids. He wanted to make sure they weren’t getting hurt and staying hydrated.

Emma Stavenau, 14, of Minnesota, said she enjoyed working on the house because the couple appreciated the effort though they didn’t know the volunteers.

“It’s all about quality of life,” she said. “We made it better for them.”

Jess Reniva, 18, of Illinois, Rachel Ditzenberger, 15, from Pittsburgh, and Kiele Holland, 16, from Missouri, worked on the backyard deck. They were strangers until this week. Now they’re a team of carpenters.

“It’s really cool to come together and make life better for one person,” Rachel said. “Plus, we’re just a bunch of teens and we all are getting along.”

Reniva was asked if he’d rather be somewhere else Thursday instead of sweating under the hot, humid air.

“No,” he said. “It’s refreshing to be here. For me, this is one of the highlights, a very humbling experience.”

He mentioned in Illinois he lived in a “well-off place.” This week, he slept in Rosa Parks Elementary School at night and paid $464 to volunteer to work during the day.

“People always talk about making a difference and the world needs more of that,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to make change yourself.”

Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF) volunteers have been repairing homes in Butler County since 2010. The organization is celebrating its 1,000th home repair this morning at a residence in the 600 block of Seventh Avenue in Middletown.

Butler County homes repaired by year:

2010: 32

2011: 72

2012: 76

2013: 81

2014: 106

2015: 97

2016: 144

2017: 172

2018: 144

2019: 36 (through May 31)

2019: 50 (June estimate)


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