ROWLAND — Down two dusty roads in south Robeson County, a small ad hoc public-private consortium of volunteers worked Wednesday to repair two homes.
At a house off South Robeson School Road, volunteers from several churches and BB&T repaired a home owned by Buddy Dahl, who smiled from his wheelchair as paint went on walls and flowers in the ground. The flowers will bring joy to Dahl, whose age and ailments have left him a shut-in.
At a second home off N.C. 41 South, two volunteers tore down a wall to prepare it for Sheetrock. Carpets were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters almost two years ago, leaving only the particle board flooring.
“FEMA has been slow to pay, so we’re trying to get churches to get together to buy building supplies and volunteer their time,” said the Rev. Mike Cummings, pastor of the Deep Branch Missionary Baptist Church, near Pembroke.
Cummings and the Rev. LeRoy Burke, pastor of Zion Hill United Methodist Church, teamed up with Randy Lewis on this project.
“Randy is as good as they come,” Cummings said. “It’s hard to say no to him.”
The Randy he is referring to is Randy Lewis, who has been begging for volunteers and for money for building supplies since Hurricane Matthew destroyed thousands of homes in Robeson County. He estimates his team has worked on 150 houses and apartments since October 2016.
“I’ve known Randy all my life,” said Theresa Barnhill, who served as team leader for the BB&T community volunteers. “We ran into him when he was feeding refugees after the hurricane at Motel 6, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.”
Barnhill and a team of BB&T volunteers, with help from Zion Hill UMC volunteers, made short work of planting flowers and began getting ready to paint the home off South Robeson School Road. Through a program called Lighthouse, BB&T allows its employees a day of community service each year, and contributes funds to organizations based on the number of hours worked, Barnhill said.
“It’s nice to get out of the office, but we love our jobs, too,” Nina Pope said. “We work for a company that cares about the community.”
BB&T’s Lighthouse volunteers recently have worked with the Senior Games, Special Olympics, Baptist Men and Women on Mission, and BackPak Pals, a group sponsored by Communities in Schools that feeds food insecure school children.
Dahl sat in the sun on his front porch and was grateful for the help.
“They’ve done a lot for me,” he said. “They built this porch, too.”
Closer to Lumberton, two of Lewis’ volunteers were finding problems in the flood-damaged home off N.C. 41 South.
“There’s a wall behind this wall,” said Jimmy Oxendine. “They said there is a pond under the house from a leaking pipe.
“I’ve worked with Randy for almost a year,” he said. “I’ve fallen through floors like this.”
For Lewis, it’s not an uncommon story. He said repairing homes is like “peeling an onion, one layer at a time.”
You never know what’s underneath the next layer, he said.
Television news cameras rolled up into the yard minutes later. Lewis is a one-man public relations and marketing juggernaut.
“It’s all from donations and volunteers,” he said. “Some of our volunteers are elderly and disabled, and they all spend their own gas money to get to the jobs.”
Volunteers such as Lewis have been filling gaps in the safety net after Hurricane Matthew. When payments come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the funds cover little more than building materials.
“Fixing a home can cost as much as five or six thousand dollars, and that does not include volunteer labor,” Lewis said. “I hope we don’t find any more problems on this job.”
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 of [email protected]