So often, a simple act of giving can open a door within a person’s heart that had not yet been discovered. Sometimes, what a person intends to be a “one-time thing” turns into a life-consuming passion. Such is the case with Hank Chardos.
In 1990, Hank’s oldest daughter, Jennifer, went on a mission trip sponsored by the Methodist Church to John’s Island, S.C., where she and a group of fellow students repaired homes for disadvantaged residents. When she returned home, she told her dad he had to give it a try. “I went with Jennifer the next time and was overwhelmed,” he says. “I returned from that experience with two distinct emotional feelings. One was amazement at the exuberance and compassion the teens displayed working in the hot summer sun. The other feeling was disappointment that the Catholic Church in South Carolina did not offer teens this opportunity.”
Just like that, a door within Hank’s heart opened, and for three summers, the Chardos family participated in similar projects on John’s Island under the auspices of a Catholic outreach service located in Charleston. “The experiences with my children, such as replacing siding, installing handicap ramps, repairing roofs and building an outhouse, prompted the idea of involving not only my children but other teens. And as the saying goes, ‘The rest is history.’”
“Works of love are always works of peace. Whenever you share with others, you’ll notice the peace that comes to you and to them.”
After Hank retired from the IRS in 2005 following a 31-year career, he decided to start Home Works of America. Based locally in Columbia, the non-profit helps families who need home repairs but cannot afford them. The mission of Home Works is to show God’s love for all through service to others and to assist others in their faith journeys. Home Works activities focus on providing home repairs to homeowners in need, assisting youth in their development, and empowering communities to meet the needs of their members. “What started as a Catholic initiative evolved into an exciting ecumenical effort. Prayer is a common bond that is shared by all religions, so prayer is incorporated in all aspects of the day; it is the source of energy and the fiber of all that we do,” Hank says.
The typical Home Works recipient is an elderly person who owns his or her own home but lives on a fixed income, with little left over for much-needed repairs. Regular weekly volunteer Darryl Williams says, “Homeownership may be the Great American Dream, but it is also the Great American Burden, because it takes time and money to keep a home in good shape.”
Potential applicants are identified by neighbors, family members, city code inspectors, homeowners, the United Way or another similar agency. Homeowners then submit a formal application to Home Works, and once it is determined that they meet the criteria for assistance, a volunteer visits the house for an inspection. This thorough examination of the property produces a prioritized list of problems and areas that need work. After the tasks are identified, leadership then recruits volunteers, which may include anyone from a teenager who has never held a hammer to a skilled contractor who seeks to give back to the community. Home Works goal is to use its volunteers’ time fruitfully, adjusting for safety and structure.
“Getting the word to teenagers is very easy,” Hank says. “They are the ones who do all the advertising to their peers.” Skilled workers and adults are a little more complicated to recruit, due to other time commitments.
“We want the community to be aware that we are simply doing ordinary tasks. Folks can come to us and learn to use a circular saw and learn that a fascia board is a very important part of a house.”
Home Works has helped more than 1,700 homeowners since 1996. “The Home Works program did more for me than just repair my home, they repaired my spirit as well. And in doing so, I have found and formed more friendships and acquired, I believe, a lasting bond with them,” one homeowner shares. “My home was in a sad state of repair inside and out. This did nothing for my attitude or self-esteem because I beat myself up every time I approached my house and moved about inside.”
With an average of $2,000 spent on each home, one of the group’s major needs is funding. Of every dollar donated to the cause, 97 cents are spent on items like paint, lumber and shingles; with more funding, Home Works could offer more help in the way of heating and air conditioning issues. Hank notes that many of their clients either do not have a heating and air conditioning unit, or the one they have works poorly.
Interestingly, while adults of all ages and capabilities are needed, Hank says that women of any skill level are especially valuable to Home Works as volunteers. Due to the fact that a greater number of teenage girls volunteer than teenage boys, more women are needed to act as mentors, to offer help and encouragement. Site leaders are needed as well, and even those without technical skills can help to oversee teens or guide painting jobs. Another volunteer group that Hank especially appreciates is the family.
“The most natural occurrence we have in volunteering is the family, and that’s how Home Works started. What an experience to have with your son or daughter,” he says. “The other thing that’s neat about a parent working with their child is that it shows that there are still strong family relationships out there. That is a very strong message to all of our volunteers, young or old.”
The message at the heart of Home Works extends beyond just providing hope to homeowners; it communicates redemption to volunteers as well. “While we were initially established to help the elderly, our program has been a meaningful experience for young people. It impacts not just one part of the community, but the community as a whole,” says Hank, who notes that Home Works is now also linked with the Richland and Lexington County Arbitration Programs.
“We don’t want to be Bob Vela; we want to be Mother Teresa. All of what we do begins with prayer. Let there be no confusion – we are not lucky; we are blessed by Providence. We have teenagers who love hopping on the roof, and yet we have an impeccable record of safety,” says Hank. He notes that every work project starts with prayer, followed by a review of simple points of safety and first aid.
Darryl adds that, for him, what is most rewarding is seeing teens who have never met become friends and learn skills. “We use a certain number of power tools,” he says, “We will see a teenager make their first-ever cut with a circular saw. Anytime you have learning going on like that, it’s pretty incredible.” He notes that, like any construction job, there can be moments of frustration as well. “Sometimes I think, ‘Why am I doing this, I could be playing golf!’ But it’s always satisfying to finish up a job and see the smile on the homeowner’s face.”
What is constructed, then, is not just for the benefit of the homeowner, although that is key in this organization. Home Works is also building communities and character, teaching youth to become community bridges and role models, and encouraging adults to do the same. Home Works is not about an individual’s accomplishments, but about what can happen when folks work together for a common good. Hank says, “When you see kids on the roof, you are not going to be able to tell who’s the Baptist, or who is the Episcopalian, but you will see the body of Christ. What has transpired over the years and continues today is a series of miracles, big and small. Miracle, after miracle, after miracle, with hammers and nails and paint brushes, teens and adults. Not only are homes repaired, but more importantly, hope is restored to the elderly and disadvantaged homeowners, and participants, old and young, grow in faith.”
To contact Home Works, visit www.homeworksofamerica.org, or contact Hank Chardos at (803) 781-4536.