Hearts and Hammers:
Building community one repair at a time

— Created May 4, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Shannon Bly

Whidbey Island homeowners in need will be helped by community volunteers this Saturday and next at the annual Hearts and Hammers workdays.

Team captains will gather their volunteers together and spend the day working on house projects such as building a handicap ramp, a roof repair, and bathroom and kitchen repairs. The projects help homeowners who are physically or financially unable to make necessary repairs to their homes, while bringing the community together in a day of service.

“Our whole thing is about safety; keeping people safe and comfortable in their homes,” said Kathleen Ryan, board member for Central Whidbey Hearts and Hammers, which is holding its workday this Saturday, as is South Whidbey Hearts and Hammers. North Whidbey Hearts and Hammers will hold its workday next Saturday, May 14.

Throughout the year, homeowners can make project requests on the organizations’ websites. Projects are also suggested by pastors, senior services, medical professionals, relatives, friends and neighbors. An organizing group of volunteers chooses projects based on need, scope of work, and skills of volunteers. There is no cost to the homeowner, as supply stores donate materials, fundraisers further cover administrative and supply cost, and volunteers donate their time to organize and work.

“People think of asking for help as a very last resort. They don’t want to feel like they’re needy, and so I’d like to have people feel that this is neighbors helping neighbors,” said Alice Schisel, of Central Whidbey Hearts and Hammers. “We welcome projects and if we’re able to do them, we’ll do them.”

All are welcome to volunteer, ages 12-112, no matter the skill level. Projects have included roof and gutter cleaning, garden and landscape clean-up, deck building, wheelchair ramp installation, painting, trash removal and anything else that can be accomplished as a one-day project. The county and transfer stations work with Hearts and Hammers to offer free dumping for volunteers who remove trash and brush from projects.

“Wheelchair ramps are projects that seem to be quite consistent,” said Randy Lamb, board member of Central Whidbey Hearts and Hammers. “Mobility access to people where their life circumstances have changed and they can’t get back in their home. I’ve done a couple of those.”

Lamb also described a past project where a house had shifted so the front door wouldn’t open.

“That’s obviously a safety issue if you can’t get out of the house,” he said.  Though not a contractor himself, he was able to be part of a team that repaired the door under the leadership of a team captain with contractor skills.

Part of the volunteer experience is to be mixed up into a group that is assigned a project and works to complete it throughout the day, taking a noon break for sack lunches and conversation. Volunteers are able to work on a meaningful project while interacting with others in their community.

Reid Schwartz, board member of North Whidbey Hearts and Hammers, got his start with the north Whidbey group in 2018.

“We were part of a team that was made up of all realtors from several different companies,” he described. “We built a new back porch and stairs, replaced a section of the floor in the kitchen and living room and hauled four or five truck loads each of yard waste and junk to the transfer station. It was a pretty amazing day.”

COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 workdays, but Central Whidbey Hearts and Hammers volunteers knew their services were still needed, so they arranged a 2021 workday for September that involved only outdoor projects and limited gathering of the entire volunteer group. The group also created a year-round emergency repair service called HEART – Homeowner Emergency Action Response Team – to service projects that were urgent, such as replacing a failed water heater.

“There is a huge demand for assistance,” said Schwartz.  “[The North Whidbey chapter] currently has an additional 34-plus applications from people in need of assistance. We are an all-volunteer organization and we are always seeking motivated leaders who want to join us to help more of our neighbors.”

Lamb echoes Schwartz’s call to action.

“In this world we need more sharing and taking care of each other, and this is a great organization to help take care of our community members,” he said.

Hearts and Hammers is a nonprofit organization that began on South Whidbey in 1994 with nine homes and 100 volunteers. Its goal was to “build community spirit and compassion while giving neighbors a helping hand,” according to its website. Since its pilot project out of the Langley United Methodist Church, Hearts and Hammers has grown and expanded to 350 volunteers serving 25-30 homes each year. There are now three organizing groups, arranged by school district, to serve the needs of the entire island community:

South Whidbey

Home of the original workdays, South Whidbey Hearts and Hammers will be holding its workday Saturday with some COVID-safe adjustments. The usual breakfast and dinner gatherings that bookend the day won’t take place this year, to reduce group gatherings. This year 250-300 volunteers will take on 25 projects. Volunteer at www.heartsandhammers.com.

Central Whidbey

In 2009, Central Whidbey Hearts and Hammers held its first workday under its own organizing board of volunteers. Since then, they’ve helped homeowners from Coupeville to Greenbank make repairs on their homes. This year’s workday will begin with a breakfast reunion Saturday at Four Square Church, where safety tips will be shared and project teams will come together to help their neighbors in need at 15 project locations. Volunteer at cwheartsandhammers.org.

North Whidbey

In 2018, North Whidbey Hearts and Hammers ran its first six jobs in the Oak Harbor area. Volunteers then founded their nonprofit organization and began planning their first official workday for May 2020. They fundraised with a successful spaghetti dinner at the United Methodist Church in February 2020.

“Then of course, we all know what happened,” said Schwartz.

North Whidbey Hearts and Hammers’ first official workday on May 14 will begin with coffee, donuts, and fruit at the Oak Harbor Fire Station, where teams will meet each other and head out to job sites. There are nine projects, including building a handicap ramp, a roof repair, and bathroom and kitchen repairs. Volunteer at nwheartsandhammers.org.

Volunteering at all events is still possible and welcomed.

“I am a big fan of the saying that ‘many hands make light work.’ Join us.” said Schwartz.