By Kara Witherow, Editor
Shawn Smith has had a home of his own for a little more than a year, and his pride comes through in his voice.
As he steps down off a ladder, removes his work gloves, and wipes the plaster dust off his face, he looks around at the job he’s done.
There’s still a lot of work left to do – sanding floors, scraping the popcorn ceiling, replacing windows, repairing plaster, and more – but it’ll get done.
Smith and two other men, Thomas and Buddy, are helping renovate a home on Brunswick’s Q Street, near the city’s downtown. Part of FaithWorks’ Open Doors community housing and job training program, they are formerly homeless men who are learning basic renovation and home rehab skills. The goal is to help get them, and others like them, back on their feet, living in one of the renovated homes, and, eventually – hopefully – employed in higher-paying jobs.
“I was living with friends in a not ideal situation,” Smith says during a break from sanding trim. “This gave me a home and a job and skills.”
Smith lives in one of Open Doors’ two renovated homes and has gained construction and home maintenance skills, which is one of the goals of the program, said Dr. Wright Culpepper, Executive Director of FaithWorks.
“The program aims to provide opportunities for persons who are homeless,” Dr. Culpepper said. “We want to give them training, gainful employment, and hope.”
Another goal of the Open Doors program is to improve the housing in Brunswick and to not only rehabilitate the homes themselves, but in doing so, the community.
To date, two homes have been fully renovated and several more are in the works. When the third home is complete, it will be rented by Gateway Behavioral Health Services and used by its clients.
Open Doors was formed when Ron Slade, a Brunswick native, returned home from Montana and met Dr. Culpepper. Slade, a landscape architect and land planner, shared his love for and dream to help renovate his hometown with Dr. Culpepper. A $75,000 grant from the St. Marys United Methodist Church Foundation helped fund the ministry, and the Foundation pledged another $50,000 if FaithWorks raised the same amount, which it was able to do in about six weeks.
The Open Doors program isn’t a handout, Slade says. The men involved are invited to take part in it and must commit to work and regularly attend church, counseling, or a substance abuse program.
The rent they pay to live in an Open Doors home is below market value, but it, along with their Open Doors job, is often a first step toward self-sufficiency.
“We’ve just started our fourth and fifth homes and have been able to get 10 people off the street so far, so that’s pretty good,” Slade said. “These guys have to work and they earn their money and they learn a skill and a trade.”
The homes they’re renovating are just the vehicles, Slade said, the classrooms in which to teach and learn new skills and trades.
“It’s all about the guys,” he said. “The world’s a tough place, and it seems tougher than ever, and if everybody would show some love and support for other people the world would be a lot better place.”