Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry repairs homes and more for low-income families in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Duplin, New Hanover, Onslow and Pender counties.
It has been four years since Hurricane Florence’s torrential rains devastated many areas in the Cape Fear region, and yet all the homes damaged during that storm have not been repaired.
That’s where Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, Inc. (WARM) and a host of volunteers enter the picture. Through free home repairs and improvements, they keep people in their homes by making their homes healthier and safer.
“Applications are still coming in for Hurricane Florence repairs, and we still have funding for Florence damage,” says JC Lyle, executive director for (WARM).
Sometimes homeowners can’t believe anyone cares about them. They can’t believe, after having a tarp on their roof for over a year or longer, that strangers are going to help them get a new roof and maybe replace the warped porch or install grab bars in the bathroom. But WARM and its volunteers have been doing those things since the organization’s beginning in 1996.
WARM is very busy in Brunswick County, closing out some Hurricane Florence damage and generally helping low-income homeowners get their houses into a livable condition. Since their beginning, WARM has completed well over 300 Brunswick County work orders.
After the application and assessment phase, WARM purchases materials, and volunteers are organized to begin the work with the leadership of a WARM field supervisor.
WARM is always looking for more skilled and unskilled volunteers. People like retirees who can work weekdays are especially needed. Lyle says anyone can pitch in and contribute, and no skills are needed; however, they are thrilled to have experienced carpenters or fix-it people on the team. And the volunteer opportunities are plentiful and varied.
“There isn’t one typical volunteer,” Lyle says. “We have youth groups that come from all over the country, retirees that volunteer throughout the week, local businesses that do paid community service days and put teams together to come out.”
Whether an individual wants to come out for one day or a group of 15 or more people can come for a few days, WARM will assign the right volunteer space for all. None of the repair jobs are the same, so there is a variety of needs.
“We have a retired HVAC person and electricians, people with lots of skills to the folks who have not really used tools before. So, they are trained by our field supervisor to use whatever tools needed,” Lyle explains.
A group of about 19 retirees from St. James Plantation, Ocean Ridge and other resort communities have formed a unique volunteer team for WARM.
“They are very dedicated and work each Tuesday and Thursday,” Lyle says. “They call themselves the Band of Brothers. They have a lot of skills. They are so talented, committed and organized, we wish we had a group like that in every county. They are a real game changer and do work all over Brunswick County.”
Lyle says WARM is trying to build up a volunteer capacity in Onslow and Duplin counties. “We don’t have a lot of volunteers yet, but we are trying to move forward with rebuilds up in that area.”
Aside from volunteers, WARM can always use tools, new or used, and they have a website link to a Lowe’s wish list for items they use often, including lumber, smoke detectors, rails, bars and more. The cost of home repairs is going up, so donations are always needed. Lyle states that a $100 dollar donation could help buy lumber to repair somebody’s porch or it would cover grab bars and railings needed inside a home.
From the Top
WARM always starts at the top, the roof top. If the roof is damaged, that is the first project tackled before any additional repairs are made. The funds that WARM receives from Duke Endowment and other private grants, government contracts, businesses and individuals can fix a variety of issues with a home that is substandard for safety.
“We have a variety of sources of revenue so we can pull from different allocated pots of money to do different things for homeowners,” Lyle says. “When a disaster comes, the people already the most vulnerable get hurt the most, they’re just not ready for it one way or the other due to ill health or financial limitations.”
The next concern is to begin safety-related repairs, fixing dangerous flooring, repairing HVAC systems, adding grab bars or new steps up to the home, for example. Often the repair team finds issues that predated the storm.
“The people we are helping now were also having trouble before the storm,” Lyle says. “They just don’t have a lot of resources in their lives, whether they are on a fixed income or have a disability, and they only have a limited ability to fix their own homes.”
Lyle notes that they initially recognized this during their founding. “We were founded after Hurricane Fran in 1996. We’d go in to repair hurricane damage, and we would see that they haven’t had HVAC heat for two years. We’re not going to leave them like that. We’ll fix the hurricane damage with the money we have and find other sources to take care of other safety and health issues while we are in the home.”
Because Wilmington is part of the organization’s name, WARM staff recognizes that many homeowners won’t consider themselves in the outreach area and therefore might not seek assistance. But WARM serves low-income homeowners who are elderly, disabled or veterans in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Duplin, New Hanover, Onslow and Pender counties. So, getting the word out is important.
WARM attends nonprofit resource fairs to encounter both prospective volunteers and individuals needing home repair help. Other nonprofits, social service networks and churches often refer people to WARM.
At any given time, WARM may have four to five projects in the works throughout the five-county area they are currently serving. They receive close to 300 requests for help per year.
Lyle points out that often people have waited a long time for assistance from other organizations, and that they are frustrated and often have no hope. When an applicant finally finds WARM and does get their needs met, they can be in a state of disbelief.
“They are incredibly grateful and can’t believe volunteers would take time to come help them,” Lyle says. “One lady that moved me so much. We completed a roof for her and then gave her an ADA raised toilet. She looked at her bathroom and she got tears in her eyes looking at her new toilet. She said, ‘You are an answer to my prayers. I’ve been hoping for this kind of work on my house for so long. I didn’t have any hope left. I didn’t know I was worthy of this kind of help.’ That gets me every time that I think about it.”
Lyle says she believes government relief organizations are starting to see the benefit of investing a little bit more into these repairs or even replacing damaged homes. The goal is to keep providing or supporting affordable housing in the market because the country appears to be in a housing crisis.
Lyle mentions Social Determinants of Health studies, which found that for every $1 put into home repair safety, it saves Medicare and Medicaid $19 by preventing emergency room visits or sickness.
More than just making home repairs, WARM volunteers, donors and staff show people that they are not forgotten, that they are valued and that their neighbors care about them.
“I think the world can use a lot more of that right now,” Lyle says. “I am so honored to work in this organization.”
Can you help?
Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, Inc.
WARM helps people age in place safely by preventing home accidents and illnesses — and preserving their dignity and independence.
On the website, warmnc.org, you will find the organization’s wish list, a service request form, volunteer information and contact information. The office is located at 5058 Wrightsville Avenue in Wilmington, and the phone number is (910) 399-7563.