Good Neighbors volunteers repair homes in southern Chester County

Staff photo by Chris Barber
From left, John Hepner, Julia Marks and Michah Freer apply spackle to dry wall in a home in Avondale.
Staff photo by Chris Barber From left, John Hepner, Julia Marks and Michah Freer apply spackle to dry wall in a home in Avondale.

AVONDALE — Young volunteers committed to helping people in need spent the past week rehabbing five homes in southern Chester County.

On Thursday, as temperatures soared into the high 90s, high school students from six different youth groups joined Good Neighbors Home Repair for its annual summer project.

At the sites in the Kennett Square-Avondale-Oxford area, the volunteers sawed, spackled, hammered and painted sections of homes that had fallen into disrepair and whose owners were not able to afford to fix them.

One house that received the attention of Good Neighbors and the youth group from the Avondale Presbyterian Church was the 63-year home of Thomasene Bove, a 1947 graduate of Kennett High School who moved into the place on Ellicott Road in Avondale in 1950 after the marriage to her husband.


Originally it was a garage to house the inventory he sold as part of his used car business, but he added on an adjacent structure in which the couple lived.

Through the years that home addition has deteriorated around Mrs. Bove. “It was in need of repairs,” she said, explaining that the windows were rotted shut and the roof was leaking.

In addition, as she aged, her relatives agreed that she needed someone nearby to look after her, so one of the rooms that had been a mere concrete block storage area had to be converted for her nephew.

The Good Neighbors volunteers were hard at work applying spackle, painting the exterior and addressing leaks there. They also turned the storage room into a bedroom.

Sara Rosazza, who is in her sixth year of volunteering, is now an adult supervisor and a freshman in college. By Thursday, she was pleased with what the group had accomplished. “I just love helping people, talking to home owners and learning things,” she said.

Rosazza added that during the beginning of a project, “We come in and it seems impossible.” And yet, after they finish, they are so proud.

Additionally, she has learned a lot about home construction and maintenance. “At school we were fixing something with screws and I said, ‘I know how to do this,’” she said.

At another location, homeowner and single mom Rachael Starkey of Avondale turned to Good Neighbors when the repairs at her house got too far out of hand — like a faulty sump pump that flooded a basement.

“It was scary to even go down there before that,” she said. “It was creepy and there was only one bulb.”

By the time Good Neighbors finishes their work, however, Starkey and her two children will have a lovely finished basement with new walls and no mold or mildew, as well as numerous other repairs to the interior and exterior of the home.

“It’s just wonderful. It really, really needed it,” she said of the repairs being made at her house. “It’s a huge help, and I’m very grateful.”

The young volunteers work under the guidance of veteran construction experts who keep them on the right track and up to code with their skills.

Andy Barbour, who has spent 25 years in the construction industry and two years with Good Neighbors, was directing the technical part of the project at a home on Starkey home. In addition to addressing the leaking basement, the volunteers — 10 from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church Youth Group of Newark, Del. — were fixing a porch post that had been attacked by rot and insects, rehabbing a bathroom and repairing the attic ventilation. Barbour said the students do quite a bit of the work, but, “I get involved in the structural engineering part.”

Scott Cherry, the site manager at that Avondale home was overseeing that project. He said working with Good Neighbors brings him a lot of satisfaction.

“After a job, it’s wonderful to look up and see the refurbished work. It’s great to look up and see the finished product,” he said.

Youth group members Michah Freer, Julia Marks and John Hepner, who were applying spackle to the drywall in the cellar, said the work gives them satisfaction and, “It’s fun.”

Part of that fun comes from tubing down the Brandywine right in the middle of the week. Executive Director Rob Ellis said they need that fun in the middle of all that work.

Another part of the job that appeals to them is camping out for a week at the Avondale Presbyterian Church. They sleep in the gym and are served their meals there by a staff under the direction of former Wilmington Christian School cafeteria worker Veronica Young. In the morning they are presented with a smorgasbord of cold cuts, breads and fruit, from which they can create their own bag lunches.

At the end of the week, they celebrate with an evening banquet.

The work is done as an affirmation of the members and volunteers’ beliefs that the way to truly walk the same path as Jesus Christ is through service to mankind, according to Ellis.

Founded by Mathaner in 1992 under the umbrella of the Koinonia Ministries in Kennett Square, the non-profit ministry has since formed its own 501(c)(3) corporation and hired Ellis to take over for the now-retired Malthaner.

“Jay still likes to swing the hammer once in a while,” Ellis said, adding that a poorly healed clavicle fracture last year has pretty much kept Malthaner from the hard work these days.

This year, Ellis and crew selected homes that had already been under repair by the organization, leaving just enough work at the five locations — two in Kennett Square, two in Avondale and one in Oxford — for the volunteers to tackle in a week.

The annual camp usually attracts upwards of 50 volunteers for the week, with the majority of them coming from area church and youth groups.

“There are around 51 that are staying overnight at Avondale Presbyterian, and another handful on the site in addition to those who don’t stay overnight,” Ellis said. “If they stay overnight, we feed them, but they gotta pay to play, so there’s a fee; that way any funds we have donated go right towards offsetting repair costs.”

Those who do stay overnight eat, play games and discuss what it means to be a Christian

The need is apparently so great that those who have joined Malthaner’s original cause work 52 weeks a year.

Through the years, the agency has expanded and become a recipient of grants, contributions and United Way allocations.

Kennett resident Paul Winters, whose house was repaired, expressed his appreciation this way: “Seeing something getting done is a positive. It enlightens you all the way around. God bless them, man. God bless them all.”

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About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at .