Central Whidbey workday helps build community

— Created July 21, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

It may not be happening until Sept. 25, but already volunteers with Central Whidbey Hearts & Hammers (CWHH) are hard at work making plans for the first workday the organization has had in well over a year.

The nonprofit, which serves residents living within the Coupeville School District boundaries, is the very definition of neighbors helping neighbors.

“Our goal is to help homeowners who can’t afford to maintain their homes and to provide a venue for the community to come together helping neighbors,” described Jim Short, board member and the house general for CWHH. “Projects range from yard cleanup and trash removal to wheelchair ramps and window replacement.”

“We prioritize health and safety issues,” explained CWHH board president Kelly Keilwitz. “Examples include repairs of stairways, railings, decks, floors, windows, gutters, etc. However, we include many other tasks that can help to reduce a homeowner’s feeling of overwhelm, such as yard cleanup, painting, repairing fences, trash and debris removal, etc. Leaking roofs are often an issue for many of our disadvantaged neighbors. However, we are not able to repair many roofs due to the safety issues with our volunteers.”  

Normally held in May but sidelined because of COVID-19, volunteers say they are thrilled to be able to once again help fulfill CWHH’s mission. Between 15 and 20 projects will be on the schedule Sept. 25, so those who may qualify for no- or low-cost assistance as part of the workday are encouraged to apply. (cwheartsandhammers.org or call 360-720-2114)

“For Central Whidbey Hearts & Hammers, the neighbors we help must live within the Coupeville School District and be physically and financially unable to make the repairs themselves,” Keilwitz said. “All work and materials are free to qualifying homeowners. Sometimes we’ll help some of our elderly neighbors who, though financially able, are reluctant to ask for help or are incapable of hiring someone to help them. Such homeowners may help with the material costs of their projects.”

Keilwitz said the past 16 months has been difficult for members of an organization whose soul purpose is connecting with members of the community.

“The unknown status of the COVID pandemic measures over the past year left all organizations, including CWHH, unable to plan ahead,” said Keilwitz. “Our annual workday is an event that depends on the community getting together to share meals and help our neighbors. And ‘getting together’ is exactly what we could not do.”

While the workdays could not be held, that doesn’t mean members of CWHH haven’t been busy. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, so CWHH invented a safe way to continue to help neighbors in desperate need of help.

“Central Whidbey Hearts and Hammers shifted our focus from the annual workday to our HEART program,” Keilwitz said. “The Homeowner Emergency Action Response Team is available year round to help homeowners with emergencies that just can’t wait for the annual workday. The HEART teams can be managed to be safe and work within the COVID response restrictions.”

Safety will remain a priority, should health guidelines change as the workday approaches.

“At this point we are planning for the group morning meeting and the dinner at the end of the workday, but we are ready to modify that if COVID conditions change,” Short said.

“We’ll follow the state’s recommendations,” agreed Keilwitz. “Such restrictions, if in place, may include handing out boxed meals instead of gathering for the traditional breakfast and dinner. At work sites volunteers may need to maintain physical distance, wear masks, etc.”

After such a long time, volunteers are ready to grab a hammer, a shovel, a saw, a rake – whatever is needed to get the selected projects done.

“It feels good to achieve our mission of ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors’ again, [being] able to help homeowners this year,” Keilwitz said.

CWHH is not the only such organization on Whidbey Island. It all began with the Hearts & Hammers organization on south Whidbey, from which the central Whidbey organization grew. CWHH in turn, helped start North Whidbey Hearts & Hammers a couple of years ago.  The north Whidbey group will hold a workday Saturday, Sept. 11. (nwheartsandhammers.org.) SWHH was unable to schedule a workday this year due to the pandemic, but the organization is having a community party from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19 at Bayview Community Hall with food, music and information for homeowners and those interested in volunteering. (heartsandhammers.com)

For anyone who is interested in lending a helping hand, volunteers are always welcome at any of the Whidbey Island Hearts & Hammers organizations. Carpentry skills are not necessary.

“We can always use more volunteers,” Keilwitz said. “Not all of our volunteers can help every year. So, we like having a big pool of volunteers to tap. We can really use more volunteers willing to be house captains. House captains organize and lead each project. Although helpful, construction experience is not necessary to be a house captain. The important skill is being able to organize people and interact with the homeowner.

“Also, not all volunteers help out on homeowner projects,” Keilwitz continued. “Volunteers are also needed to help with meals, drive trucks and trailers to the solid waste facility and such. And we do have a few open positions on our board of directors, for anyone who would like to help shape the future of CWHH.”

Anyone interested in getting involved as a volunteer, or homeowners who are in need of assistance, can find out more at cwheartsandhammers.org.

“It’s difficult to ask for help,” Keilwitz said. “But everyone needs help, sometimes. That’s what community is all about. CWHH is your community, here to help you. Please ask.”