By CHRISTINE CRUMBO
COLUMBIA — As drying clothes swayed gently on a neighbor’s line, a Columbia woman murmured thanks to God on the Feast of Christ the King for the circle of friends gathered with her outside her back door.
The group had met only a few weeks before, as the result of a chance comment the woman, Betty Bickley, had made to co-worker Rick Potash at the Richland County Courthouse.
My roof leaks, Bickley confided. I’m not sure how I’ll ever afford to get it fixed.
Within days, Potash had called a fellow parishioner at St. Peter’s Church in Columbia — Hank Chardos, who directs a program that sets Catholic youth to work repairing homes for those who can ill afford to pay.
By the Feast of All Saints, Chardos had mustered 40 to 50 youth willing to work from just after sunrise and into the evenings for three weeks — mostly on weekends but sometimes on weekday evenings, too. He also drummed up a donated water heater, kitchen flooring and guttering.
When they first began, the volunteers were concerned only with Bickley’s roof. But soon they were replacing and reglazing windows, shoring up and replacing a kitchen floor, and painting walls and ceilings.
The effort was one of a growing number of such projects in the HomeWorks program, which Chardos began for Catholic youth slightly more than two years ago, This effort, though, was the first to involve both Catholic and Episcopal youth, from parishes across Columbia and as far away as Aiken.
“At first I didn’t know what was going to happen to the place,” said volunteer JaColeman Hutto, 16, of Mary Help of Christians Parish in Aiken. “I didn’t know if we could finish.”
But as work progressed, he said, “it felt like I was getting closer to God” and working with Him.
Bickley, too, worked with the crew swarming over and through her house, scraping paint and doing “little handy things.” She was overwhelmed, she said — “I am truly overwhelmed at the turnout (and) at the faith” of the workers.
Erin Flickinger, 17, of Our Lady of the Hills Parish outside Columbia helped tear out flooring and paint. She, too, felt a spiritual connection among workers.
“There was a lot of love between Miss Betty and all the workers, and that made everybody feel very peaceful,” she said.
Hutto and Flickinger were among those gathered for the blessing of Bickley’s house — and, no less important — the final sharing of food and fellowship among the workers.
They stood quietly with Bickley, their hands clasped and heads bowed in prayer as the Rev. James Lyon of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church of Columbia called upon God to confer his blessings.
“The Lord shall watch your going out and your coming in,” Lyon said, quoting Scripture before moving room to room to sprinkle holy water. “May God make this home a bastion of goodness and peace,… and preserve this family forever.
The Catholic-Episcopal experience seems to be a success, said Lyon and Chardos. As the result of the Bickley project, Chardos said, he’s had 10 calls requesting similar assistance.
“I don’t know whether we’ll ever get to (all of them),” he said.
“There are so many people in need.” But the group does plan at least one more project, in February.
Those who wish to donate time or construction materials to HomeWorks may call Chardos in Columbia at (803) 781-4536.