On August 8th Chesapeake Housing Mission (CHM) completed their 500th home repair project, the construction of a wheelchair ramp leading up to the front door of Mrs. Madeline W.’s home in Wicomico County, a safer alternative to the steps that have become increasingly difficult for her to negotiate. Madeline, a 73-year-old widow, has been in her residence for 30 years. She worked for the Grumman Corporation in New York and relocated to Salisbury when Grumman opened a plant in Salisbury in 1985.
Due to some underlying health conditions that developed later in life, Madeline uses a wheelchair in her home and a walker outside of the home. Bay Area Center for Independent Living evaluated Madeline’s situation and submitted an application for home repair to CHM which was subsequently approved. The wheelchair ramp was completed by a volunteer team of Salisbury University Residence Life and staff – Madeline is so grateful for their service as she hopes to continue living safely in her home for many more years to come. “It is just wonderful!” exclaimed Madeline when asked about the ramp. “This is a life saver. It will give me a bit of my independence back.”
“Give a Day, Change a Life”. That is the motto of the Chesapeake Housing Mission, a non-profit born 10 years ago, operating out of Salisbury, Maryland and dedicated to providing critical home repair services to low income families in the Chesapeake Region. Several long time volunteers of the Appalachia Service Project that completes annual home improvement projects in impoverished Appalachia, recognized there was great need right here in our community and together set about addressing that need. CHM, the only agency of its type on the lower Eastern Shore, was launched and slowly nurtured as it has grown from 5 projects completed in 2010 to 103 in 2019. That is remarkable for a largely volunteer organization that requires significant planning, coordination, and supervision to complete each project. Through 2019, over 9,100 volunteers have given over 59,000 hours to make homes warmer, safer, drier, and healthier.
Both clients and volunteers are deeply moved by the experience. As one super volunteer who has participated in over 100 projects put it, “I did not see nor understand the poverty around me until I became involved with Chesapeake Housing Mission. I learned I can make a difference in the lives of those in my own community by just giving my time. I have witnessed people of all ages, races, genders, and religious beliefs come together to work in perfect harmony with one another to help make life a little easier for a complete stranger.”
Many volunteer teams complete multiple projects each year, other teams come back year after year to complete a project, and new teams are added annually. In 2019, 72 teams from businesses, churches, schools, service clubs, government departments, and individually organized teams came together to complete the 103 projects.
CHM’s operating model is to identify low income clients that have been vetted by local agencies and have vital projects that can usually be completed in a single day, create a plan to complete the project, line up a volunteer project team, acquire the necessary materials, and bring the materials and labor together to complete the project. This takes a great deal of upfront coordination and onsite supervision to ensure the job is done right. CHM uses both volunteers and a small paid part-time staff of operations and volunteer coordinators. It is a model that has worked well and there is a current wait list of over 50 clients needing assistance, longer than usual given the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don Taylor, a retired Perdue Farms executive and a founding member of CHM, serves as the unpaid Executive Director. When you talk to Don, the passion he feels for CHM radiates and it is obvious he is energized by the gratitude, love and goodwill expressed by the clients and volunteers. CHM is supported by a thirteen member Board of Directors, a small Advisory Board, the small paid part-time staff and a growing number of volunteer teams throughout the community. CHM only services clients referred to them by local agencies skilled in assessing physical and financial need like Bay Area Center for Independent Living, Somerset County Commission on Aging, Peninsula Regional Medical Center, Maintaining Active Citizens (MAC), Worcester County Commission on Aging, and Delmarva Community Services. Financial support is provided by numerous foundations, local businesses, and individual donors. In 2019, The Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore recognized CHM with the annual Richard A. Henson Nonprofit Award of Excellence created to recognize a non-profit organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the well-being of residents of the Lower Shore. The award came with a $5,000 grant to support the CHM’s work.
An anonymous quote appearing in Chesapeake Housing Mission’s 2019 Annual Report captures how the volunteers and supporters of CHM feel about the organization: “Our time on this earth is short. Do stuff that matters.”
Thank you Mike Hyland for your contribution of time and talent in writing this article.