Out of town volunteers make home repairs in Belleville's west end

News-DemocratJune 27, 2013 

— High school and college students from northern Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin spent the past week doing home repair projects for residents on Belleville's west end.

The group of about 80 volunteers is organized through Christ United Methodist Church in Rockford.

Volunteer Alex Ames, 22, spent Thursday overseeing a group of students working on a home in the first block of North 98th Street.

Ames said his favorite part of the annual Mission Camp trips are meeting the residents he helps.

"You see how it affects them and how what we do changes their life," said Ames, of Fennimoore, Wis.

Ames said he finds Belleville very welcoming. When stores like Home Depot and Dollar Tree learned why he was in town, the businesses gave discounts and donated items to the cause.

About eight volunteers power-washed the house, scraped the peeling paint from the wood panels of the house, and then primed and painted the home.

Down the street, another set of volunteers helped a couple in their 80s redo the porch, steps and walkway.

The volunteers arrived during the weekend, started to do repairs on about 10 sites on Monday and will finish on Friday, said Linda Havlin, of the West End Redevelopment Corp., or WERC, in Belleville.

Havlin said WERC had its own members ask around to see if there were any Belleville residents in need of home improvement help.

WERC's year-round work includes community development, and buying and rehabbing problem properties in the city's west end.

Havlin said WERC was introduced to the church group because some members had relatives in Belleville.

The volunteers spent the past year fundraising and supply all the materials to do the repairs, so there is no cost to the Belleville homeowners, Havlin said.

The group stayed at Signal Hill United Methodist Church and used facilities at Althoff Catholic High School.

One of the projects involved painting the outside of the WERC office building at 9700 W. Main St.

Havlin said the volunteers presence has been well received this week in the west end neighborhoods.

Volunteer Cassy Van Fossen, 22, a youth director of Lodi Presbyterian Church in Wisconsin, has been on six mission trips. She started as a camper and is now a crew leader.

"I love the community of it," Van Fossen said. "Getting to know a new town every year is awesome and to have people stop and ask what you're up to is the best feeling."

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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