The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Building Kindness — and bridges

New Mexico congregation helps low-income residents make home improvements

On a dry, dusty Saturday summer morning, an eclectic crew of volunteers works up a sweat rehabbing a 1970 single-wide trailer that sits about a mile west of the Rio Grande River in Hernandez, N.M.

Kathryn Wilcutt, a retired elementary school teacher from nearby Los Alamos, measures 2-by-4s to prop up the kitchen counter. Raul Rojas, pastor of Victory Outreach, an evangelical church in Hernandez, spreads sticky tar on the roof. Out back, neighbor Loretta Atencio rakes the dirt yard, while inside, John Bell, the interim youth and family pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Los Alamos, tears down the sagging bedroom ceiling. The boss, David Canfield, moves from bedroom to kitchen and roof.

Theresa (last name not provided) is
Theresa (last name not provided) is one of several homeowners who in the past year has received home repairs through Building Kindness, a program of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Los Alamos, N.M.

"What do you think?" Canfield yells up to Rojas from the bottom of the ladder. "I think this is a big project!" Rojas responds. Just then Bell walks out of the trailer. "David, I thought you should know," he says, "the whole ceiling is bowing on the inside from the weight of the guys on the roof."

Compared to the last job, when a volunteer fell through the rotted kitchen floor, this trailer is in immaculate shape. It just needs upgrades — and that is what "Building Kindness" does best. The partnership between Bethlehem and Habitat for Humanity of Española Valley and Los Alamos focuses on working with low-income homeowners on low-cost improvements to their existing structures. The average project, which can be anything from building a handicap ramp to installing a shower, costs from $300 to $800, which the homeowner has to eventually pay back in full. Most materials are sourced from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Española and community volunteers do all the labor for free.

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