Veteran volunteers work on Rowan Helping Ministries transitional housing project
J.C. Eagle may joke about being a retiree with nothing to do, but he’s doing plenty these days. Eagle is one of many volunteers who renovate homes that will be used as transitional housing for Rowan Helping Ministries.
The Eagle’s Nest program provides transitional housing, but it isn’t able to really accommodate families that have several children.
The properties were cleared in August 2012 and in February the land for the new shelter expansion project was cleared. The new 30,000-square-foot shelter will be able to provide housing for 60 men, 40 women and up to four families.
Each day for the past few weeks, dozens of volunteers have worked in two houses at the corner of East Council and North Long streets. Eagle, 82, a retired military veteran and Southern Railroad man, has organized the volunteers each day.
He spearheads the “Handyman Ministry” at Faith Baptist Church.
“We are retired men that don’t have anything to do,” Eagle joked.
The volunteers have nearly completed one house and began Monday on the first house located at the corner of the intersection.
Once the renovations are done inside, volunteers will tackle landscaping.
It just so happens that many of the volunteers are veterans, including Eagle.
He served six years with the Army. Of those six, four years were spent in Korea. Eagle went to Europe, wound up in Orléans, France. In June 1953, he and a few other soldiers received a three-day pass. The men headed to London where they attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The queen, in a procession, walked past the men on the streets of London.
“That was quite an experience,” Eagle recalled. The USO packed the men a lunch and they traveled by ferry from France to England. When asked what he did in the Army at that time, Eagle said, “some of it is classified.” Most of what he did was keep records, Eagle said.
He was supposed to work on the railroad in the military as an inspector, but once they discovered Eagle could type he didn’t get out of the office, he said. The Army ran the railroad tracks across France to Germany as a supply line, Eagle said.
Eagle found a love of woodworking in high school. He took a shop class and his father hired him out to frame houses. When Eagle left the railroad, he joined Rowan Printing Co. When he retired in 1992, Eagle said he intended to play golf, but he never picked up a club.
“I’ve retired three or four times,” he said with a laugh.
Instead, he’s volunteered with his church on various rebuilding projects, including work on a clinic in Mississippi in 1993 and he’s spent time in Tarboro, New York and Miami.
Volunteering, he said, is way more important than playing golf. “This is more rewarding,” he said.
Dickey Menius, project coordinator, said on Wednesday volunteers were remodeling the kitchen floors, working on plumbing and wiring to get them updated. Twenty to 50 people have been working. Menius estimates 90 percent of the people working on the project are volunteers.
He also attends with Faith Baptist Church.
Ed Bitner, who worked with Eagle at Southern Railroad, is a volunteer in an extension program of the Rowan Baptist Association’s Disaster Relief. He’s also a retired minister — former pastor of Carmel Baptist Church as well as maintenance in the Air Force. He maintained B-52 bombers during the Vietnam and Korean wars. Bitner is a West Virginia native, Kentucky raised and North Carolina resident. His family moved to North Carolina when he was in high school. He joined the military while he lived in Salisbury. He entered the ministry two years after retiring from the Air Force. He was at one point pastor of Providence Baptist in East Spencer and Oakland Heights Baptist Church in Salisbury.
Jeff Houston is also a member of Faith Baptist Church and retired from AT&T. When the church members know of a project, they announce it to the congregation. He’s been volunteering for this project for about a month.
“It’s a worthy cause. It keeps us out of trouble,” he joked.
Houston is also a Vietnam veteran and served from 1960 to 1968 performing air operations and as a clerk, he said. He began in security during the height of the Vietnam War.
Houston spent time in Thailand and Vietnam. Although he’s from Louisiana, he’s lived in Salisbury for 18 years.
Executive Director Kyna Foster said she thinks this is a very blessed community to have volunteers and others who want to make a difference.
“It’s a real desire to give back and a real sense of calling that this is what God calls them to do. It’s a real sense of community,” Foster said.
She said the volunteers just expand the “family.”
“It’s like this growing family of volunteers, working together. We build relationships,” she said.
Although the project is still incomplete, Foster already has volunteers who want to help decorate.
Renovations haven’t begun on the last house left to be completed, Foster said, because they don’t fully own it. “We own an interest in that house,” she said.
Foster expects the keys to be turned over to her on one house March 15.
The house that volunteers were working on Monday is expected to be complete in 30 to 45 days, Foster said.
Volunteers are even working on weekends to see the project is complete in a timely manner. Inspections have to be done and once passed, a family can be placed.
One house will be primarily for a veteran and his or her family.