Inside the Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry – or “WARM”
WARM volunteers make houses safer and more accessible in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties.
PHOTOGRAPHY by Mark Steelman
Alleviating other people’s hardships generates a feeling of warmth felt like no other. Jeannie Carriker “JC” Skane experiences this emotion often. As executive director for the nonprofit Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, Inc. (WARM), she witnesses small miracles taking place through hard work, dedication and gratitude.
WARM’s focus is on repairing the homes of low-income families, many of whom are elderly and/or have disabilities. Its mission is to make these homes safe, accessible and healthy, helping their owners gain more independence and stay in their homes longer.
WARM began in 1996 as a disaster-relief service to help those affected by Hurricanes Bertha and Fran. Started by the Wilmington District of the United Methodist Church, its volunteers focused on helping people rebuild after the storm. The volunteers soon realized that it was not only the destruction from hurricanes they were encountering, but also homes in desperate need of repair prior to these natural disasters.
“Volunteers could see that they had come across a social disaster as well,” Skane says.
Answering the call to improve substandard housing in the area, WARM continued its mission after the hurricanes and grew into the busy year-round organization it is today. It served 107 households in 2015, and as of July had already helped 114 households in 2016. The organization assists residences in Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties. Homeowners in need complete an application to receive aid.
Skane became involved in WARM in 2006 as a volunteer through her church. Having professionally worked in the housing industry, making the leap to work for WARM was a natural one and one that was an expression of her faith.
She says likes the instant gratification of seeing how the work positively affects a person’s life. One of her most compelling stories was when she went out to assess a mobile home.
“There was tape on the carpet, and when asked what it was for, the individual said it was to mark spots on the floor so her son would know where not to stepbecause there was no floor, nothing, under those areas of the carpet,” Skane says.
She says she appreciates that the recipients’ reactions are so genuine and heartfelt.
“We put in a toilet for a woman, and she started hugging the volunteer,” Skane says. “She said, ‘I didn’t know I was worthy of this kind of help.’ This is what I love about WARM, that we show people they are worthy.”
WARM performs safety, health and accessibility-related improvements as well as provides new appliances, if needed.
“Food safety is just as important, as well as proper medicine storage. Many medicines need to be stored in refrigerators,” Skane says.
In addition to carpentry, WARM provides repairs to subfloors, roofs, ceilings, walls, heating and air conditioning units, plumbing and electrical work. The group also address weatherization issues and builds wheelchair ramps. Some work is contracted, which helps provide local jobs, Skane adds.
The ministry is built on volunteers.
“It is my hope that we can get all three of our counties on a neighbor-helping-neighbor model,” Skane says.
Right now, most of their financial support, as well as volunteers, come out of New Hanover County. They receive funding through avenues such as grants, private donations, businesses and fundraisers.
“I would like to see awareness grow,” Skane says. “We aren’t able to get help to those neighbors in Brunswick County as quickly, due to fewer volunteers from the area.”
Skane says the group is trying to expand in Brunswick County.
“We would love for people to volunteer during the weekdays as well as the weekends,” she says. “We have started what we call Mission Mondays and are looking to start something like WARM Wednesdays to get more people to join us during the week.”
The organization has a long waiting list of people who need their help, and Skane says, “We believe everyone on our list is urgent.”
So what does it take to be a volunteer for WARM? That answer is simple. “A willingness to help someone in need,” Skane says. “That’s all.”
The professional team at WARM is there for all volunteers, from youth ages 14 to adult. Skane says the organization is highly organized and that the staff as hired to support the volunteers.
WARM currently employs six staff members in addition to Skane. They include a program manager, a program coordinator, an administrative assistant, a construction manager (who is a licensed contractor), a construction coordinator and a construction supervisor. They specifically teach volunteers the skills needed to perform repair and construction work.
If construction skills are not a person’s forte, there are plenty of other ways to get involved. In the marketing and business development category, for example, WARM is looking for people to take photos of the projects, share them through social media and help find new people to join the cause. On the hospitality side, help is always needed to prepare and deliver food to the onsite volunteers, perform clerical type work, coordinate volunteers and much more.
“You tell us when and how much you would like to volunteer,” Skane says. “We are here for you. We respect the social aspect of volunteering as well. We want to make it fun. It’s a great community and team-building experience. If a community or business is interested, we come out to them and talk about WARM.”
WARM encourages both individuals and groups to volunteer. Youth and adult mission teams are invited to travel to the area as “voluntourists.” Some businesses have already joined in promoting the importance of community service by having their employees volunteer at WARM during their workday while still being paid.
WARM even partners with Cape Fear Community College’s plumbing students. “It benefits everyone involved,” Skane says. “The students get real life experience, WARM benefits from the labor and since WARM pays for all the supplies, that’s a win for the school.”
Skane says the organization’s long-term goal is to work themselves out of job, “until we don’t have a waiting list anymore.”
She feels that most importantly, WARM gives a positive message to the people they serve.
“We care about your immediate needs,” she says. “We love you and want you to feel safe and secure in your own home.”
Want to help?
For more information on WARM or how you can sign up to volunteer, call (910) 399-7563 or visit warmnc.org.