By Brett Hetherington*
Beyond the University of Mount of Union campus and the streets of downtown Alliance a new ministry thriving in the rural Alliance/Beloit community of Ohio is connecting churches, families, and Habitat for Humanity.
Every-other year since 2011 churches in and around Alliance have been partnering to build houses for families in need. “Each year we invite all the churches in the area to come together and hear about the program,” shared Alliance Area Habitat for Humanity Director Niki McIlvain. “One of the first items we address is that there is a cost to each house. We ask churches to invest at one of two levels – $5,000 or $2,500.” With 12 churches investing at these levels, approximately half of the cost of building the house is covered. “But we have never turned away any church who wanted to be involved, even if they could not afford the investment,” said McIlvain.
Lynda Slack serves as the Apostle Build chairperson, as well as a representative for her church – Union Avenue Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District). “Our church has been a part of this important community ministry for six different Apostle Builds,” she said. “We have raised the funds to meet a financial commitment to Alliance Area Habitat for Humanity by having rummage sales, spaghetti drive-thru inners, and challenges to church members and youth. We have never dipped into the general fund and have always met our commitment.”
Bruce Helsel, Board of Trustees chairperson at Christ United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) shared that, “CUMC raises its money primarily through a church-wide fund drive that lasts for a three-month period. In addition, during the Alliance Chamber of Commerce Concerts at the Caboose we offer popcorn, soda, water, and ice cream for a free-will donation.” He said that the community usually holds three to five of those concerts on Friday evenings during the summer.
“Perhaps more important than the money is the personal involvement,” Helsel continued. “Each church is responsible for providing a crew of volunteers for at least one build day on the project, as well as providing lunch for the crew on a separate day.”
Both Christ United UMC and Union Avenue UMC have been involved in the Apostle Build program since its inception.
McIlvain stated that Habitat does survey the churches to consider the congregation’s size, age, skills and more. On the 2021 build one East Ohio Conference United Methodist church provided a crew to install drywall, and another provided a painting team.
The teams that serve on build days are also responsible to start the day with a devotion. “This just gets us started off on the right foot,” McIlvain said.
Habitat for Humanity does have a rigorous process that aids its teams in deciding who is able to become a homeowner through this program, including working on the house themselves with the church volunteers. But what has left McIlvain with the deepest impact over the course of these builds is the community that has grown and the connections that have been made through the process.
“Typically, candidates in this program haven’t been the most supported in their lives, and they come to learn a lot by being surrounded by good people,” she shared. In fact, families who are a part of the Apostle Build program end up joining churches that provided volunteers, or other organizations that those volunteers are involved in.
“One Apostle Build family was an older couple and they couldn’t do a whole lot of the physical labor at the house,” McIlvain recalled. “But through the build process this couple really connected with some of the volunteers, and they got involved at a local food pantry because several church members volunteer there. Now they are both day managers there!”
Habitat for Humanity and the churches in the Alliance/Beloit area have partnered to build something together that far exceeds just four walls and a place for someone to lay their head at night. They have created a ministry that extends beyond the walls of the traditional church, meeting physical, emotional and spiritual needs, and providing guidance, mentorship and a path to join the hands and feet of Christ at work in their community.
“It is a really cool phenomenon to see the community the Apostle Build builds,” said McIlvain.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.