The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 17, 2013

LEAF crews shrug off heat, humidity to help strangers

Loving Equally All Families program boosts quality of life for local residents

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Staff Writer

CONNEAUT — Cool, shady spots were a hot commodity Tuesday for dozens of people tackling home improvement projects across Conneaut.

All this week, volunteers with the faith-based Loving Equally All Families program are painting, hammering, sawing — and much more — to boost the quality of life for many local residents.

On Tuesday, with temperatures approaching 90 degrees, team supervisors faced another challenge — keeping their crews upright in blazing sun and drenching humidity. Leaders at numerous work sites said they were taking precautions due to the day’s extreme weather.

“We take breaks every half hour,” said Kevin Hutchens, helping a squad of kids and adults assemble a wooden wheelchair ramp at a Madison Street house. “And every other hour or so we go to (nearby) New Leaf United Methodist Church just to sit in the air conditioning.”

Everybody on the job Tuesday agreed the climate took some of the starch out of their staffs. “It’s slowing us down somewhat,” said Don Palm, helping to paint a house on Detroit Street.

As of Tuesday morning, no heat-related illnesses had been reported, said Kirk Hutchens, who is overseeing the LEAF program. “We’re keeping everyone hydrated,” he said.

Progress was made despite the oppressive climate. “We’re still getting a lot of work done,” Kirk Hutchens said.

LEAF, begun in 2005, is a collective project of numerous churches in Conneaut, Ashtabula County and across northeast Ohio, as well as unaffiliated volunteers. Dozens of workers young and not-so-young are tackling upwards of 80 individual projects, nearly all of them within the city of Conneaut.

Kirk Hutchens said everyone who said they would help weeks ago showed up as scheduled. “We got the groups we thought would be here,” he said.

Some of the out-of-town workers are spending the week in Conneaut, bunking at Amboy United Methodist Church.

As in previous years, the LEAF initiative has enjoyed financial support from the community, Hutchens said.

“Local organizations have made donations,” he said. “It’s been amazing.”

The project doubles as a learning experience for the youngsters, Hutchens said.

“It’s wonderful working with the kids,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Many weeks ago, property-owners unable to make their own home repairs submitted applications to LEAF. Projects were evaluated and then prioritized by LEAF officers. Owners of houses picked for improvement projects are grateful.

“We need more of this in the world,” said Donald Champlin, whose Lakeview Avenue home is receiving roof repairs courtesy of LEAF. “I couldn’t do any work myself. We have a lot of medical problems. You can’t imagine how much I appreciate this.”

Staff writer Warren Dillaway contributed to this story