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Paraclete Foundation at Holy Spirit

Msgr. Charles Rowland, pastor of Holy Spirit Church, had long noted that significant numbers of neighbors on Johns and Wadmalaw Islands lived below the poverty level in aging homes. They owned the properties, but they were financially unable to make repairs. The occupants tended to be retired or the working poor, whose options for other housing did not exist. The sale of these homes was often precluded because the land was “heirs property,” that is, property passed down through the generations without a will where land is owned in common by all heirs, regardless of whether they live on it or pay taxes.

So, in the autumn of 2018, Msgr. Rowland established the Paraclete Foundation for essential home repairs. The foundation’s purpose was to address the housing situation of Holy Spirit’s neighbors by making necessary repairs to render the homes healthy, safe and sanitary wherever possible.

The priest, along with Deacon Joseph Stocker, organized a founding committee that included a retired building contractor, an electrical engineer, a social worker, a leader from another area church, plus volunteer members of the parish who had experience either in construction or grant writing and fundraising. At first, clients came to Paraclete through recommendations from other churches on the islands, or from senior citizen centers and local social workers. All the foundation's clients live below the poverty level, and the average annual household income is about $15,000.

The construction contractor was formerly the project manager of Home Works of America — a non-profit organization that provided home repair to low-income homeowners. He visited each applicant's home, assessed whether it was within the scope of Paraclete to repair and counseled the owner.

Members of the committee raised funds and wrote grants while consulting with similar programs such as Chips (Community Home Improvement Project) at Johns Island Presbyterian Church, Sea Island Habitat for Humanity, Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach and Wadmalaw Senior Center.

The foundation has been granted funds twice by Kiawah Cares and three times by the Town of Kiawah Island, in addition to the contributions from Holy Spirit’s parishioners. Every dollar contributed goes directly to repairs and rebuilding, and there are no administrative costs. Since its inception, Paraclete has repaired 61 homes at a cost of over $277,000, with an average project cost of $4,600.

Repairs have included replacing collapsed floors, ceilings and damaged windows; renovating bathrooms for handicapped residents; repairing steps and porches, broken kitchen counters and cabinets; fixing faulty plumbing and electrical wiring. When septic systems, HVACs or roofs need to be replaced, the foundation hires outside professionals. Paraclete completed two projects in its first year and six in the following. During COVID-19 quarantine precautions of 2020-2021, when volunteers could not enter homes, Paraclete repaired or replaced 31 roofs and performed other outside work, such as ramp repair and deck rebuilding.

Now, back on full schedule, the foundation has completed 22 projects in the first half of 2022. The current waiting list includes 24 homes that are approved for work or waiting to be assessed. Just a few of the projects completed include:

A 48-year-old man who is blind and is recovering from a kidney transplant lives alone on Johns Island in a mobile home. His roof leaked in multiple places and damaged the roof decking underneath. Paraclete hired a professional to replace the roof with 30-year architectural-grade shingles and repair the decking.

An elderly Wadmalaw Island couple also had problems with a leaking roof. The 78-year-old wife had to climb into the attic to empty multiple buckets whenever it rained, and her 80-year-old husband was recovering from a heart attack. The foundation replaced the roof and all rotted decking underneath.

A 65-year-old Army veteran on Johns Island, who was disabled in the line of duty as a firefighter and is now cared for by his sister, had no functioning bathroom. He had taken a loan to have his roof reshingled, a handicap bathroom installed and repairs done to the two bedrooms in the home. The contractor re-shingled the roof and framed the bathroom addition, then disappeared once two thirds of the fee was paid. Paraclete finished the bathroom by installing a new floor, a walk-in shower and handicap-accessible fixtures. A bedroom closet was installed, drywall applied, a door added to a bedroom, vinyl floors were laid and outside stairs were replaced.

An elderly couple on Wadmalaw Island live in a poorly constructed 75-year-old home. The husband is frail, and his wife is recovering from a kidney transplant. The foundation had replaced the roof and rebuilt a septic system previously. The home had no functioning kitchen, so Paraclete relocated it to a relatively level space, installed a new faucet and drain line, vent hood, gas range and backsplash. The kitchen is now a safe and sanitary place to prepare food.

Holy Spirit and the Paraclete Foundation outreach will continue to assist neighbors of all faiths within the parish borders. The work is a heartfelt blessing for those involved, and a witness of Christian compassion to the island communities who are served by these good works.