Stay at Home volunteer brigades give back to Allegheny County communities
By Jason Cato
Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Caring for her aging father and his aging Wexford home is a full-time job for Katie Simmons, and one that she said is difficult without help.
A volunteer brigade with Stay at Home Mission Work Camp delivered just that this week, pitching in to paint Joseph Simmons' former farmhouse along Grubbs Road and make repairs to a bathroom and garage.
“We're living on his pension and Social Security,” said Katie Simmons, 46, who moved home from Boston last year to serve as caregiver for her 86-year-old father. “We have to rely on the grace of others.”
The local mission project started five years ago through Christ Lutheran Church in Millvale, headed by the Rev. George Mendis, and with the assistance of North Hills Community Outreach.
“It has been a wonderful, cooperative relationship due to their hard work,” Mendis said.
The community group helps identify people and properties that need help, and the mission solicits donations and materials. It provides labor.
More than 80 volunteers — a record — signed up this year from seven congregations.
Youth volunteers have slept in the Millvale church since Sunday, going out to work every day this week.
“They'll be sleeping in the rafters, but we'll make room,” Mendis said.
Volunteers pay $75 for the experience. The money is used to pay for the restoration work. Trinity feeds the volunteers breakfast and lunch each day, with other local congregations providing dinner.
Programming and activities are scheduled each evening.
“You get to work, but you also get to sleep and you get to have fun,” Mendis said.
Last year, the mission project spent nearly $4,200 for materials to go along with donated supplies, Mendis said. The 45 volunteers provided an estimated $37,000 worth of labor, he said.
“With 80 people,” Mendis said, “we're going to blow the doors off the thing.”
Jamie Evans, 16, a rising senior at Brashear High School, is volunteering for a second summer.
“It feels good that you're giving back to people and helping them out,” said Evans, of Brookline. “It's hard work, but it's so worth it.”
Justin Rubright is ending his rookie season with the mission but has grasped its importance.
“It's about helping the community and doing God's work,” said Rubright, 14, of Harmony.
He helped clear debris from the flood-prone Girtys Run in Millvale in nearly 90-degree heat.
“It's not too bad,” Rubright said. “There's a nice breeze.”
The Rev. Christina Ingold, pastor of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brookline, grew up attending Christ Lutheran in Millvale. This is her congregation's third year involved in the project.
“We get to help our neighbors,” she said. “We've gone on mission trips elsewhere, but here we are helping people in our own backyards.”
Even in affluent communities such as Wexford, people need help, Katie Simmons said.
“It can be hiding in plain sight,” she said.
Joseph Simmons worked three decades for U.S. Steel Corp. before starting his own house-building company, she said. He graduated from Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University, and received his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He still takes classes through Pitt's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
Years ago, Joseph Simmons traveled to Romania to help teach people modern building techniques.
“It's kind of come full circle,” his daughter said of the mission's help.
A neighbor helps the Simmonses with minor house repairs and another sometimes makes dinner. But the volunteers' help this week will go a long way to keeping Joseph Simmons in his house filled with antiques, family photographs and other memories.
“If he had to leave this home, it would kill him,” his daughter said. “It's such a godsend for us.”
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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