On a beautiful Saturday morning at 24th and Vine St. in Kansas City, LC Hawkins looks up at his 100-year-old building being transformed right in front of his eyes. Christmas in October brought out volunteers from Resurrection and Paseo Baptist Church who would use more than 40 gallons of paint to give his building a facelift.
Hawkins is now in his 80s and remembers when the street was filled with stores and offices in what was once the heart of the African American community in Kansas City. Now, his building and Wendell Phillips Elementary across the street are all that’s left on that block. He has owned H&S Food Services for 25 years. It started as a deli where people could come after church to grab lunch, and became so popular Hawkins expanded to include full catering services. On Saturday, he and one of his family members cooked hot dogs on the grill to provide lunch for the volunteers.
“I don’t think we have ever had anything like this done before,” Hawkins said.
This year Resurrection brought out a total of 338 volunteers, including 34 house captains to assist the elderly, disabled and veterans of 17 owner-occupied homes and businesses. This year’s strategy was to focus on Resurrection’s partner neighborhood between 18th and 29th streets north to south, and from Prospect to Troost Avenue east to west.
Resurrection’s Christmas in October leader Larry Hendenkanp recalls one of his favorite stories of the day. A group of about 50 volunteers along with several of the neighborhood association leaders were assigned to pick up trash throughout the neighborhood. As they worked their way up and down the streets, residents began to curiously peek out of their doors.
“Who are you with?”
“Why are you here?”
It wasn’t long until some of the residents offered up their wheelbarrows and joined the volunteers in helping to pick up trash.
“I think that was the tipping point,” Hendenkanp said.
In the backyard of a house on 27th and Brooklyn Street, the radio broadcast of a KU football game served as background noise for volunteers who were building a wheelchair ramp onto the home of a 96-year-old lady. Weeks before, as house leader Deb Holsteen was planning the project, she received word from a man whose parents had recently passed away and was willing to donate the ramp. Good timing.
“I think that was a God moment,” Holsteen said.
In total there were 36 house captains, usually two assigned to a project. They had the task of managing an average of 20-25 volunteers per house and assigning duties. There were also instances of volunteers who were willing to go above and beyond those duties. At the Brooklyn St. house, they learned of a particular window the lady in the wheelchair enjoyed looking out of during the day. One of the volunteers noticed that the area in her view was covered in brush. She cleaned out the area, then bought and planted flowers.
“What’s amazing is she came up with that idea on her own,” Holsteen said. “Sometimes I just step back and say, ‘Wow’ when I see all this taking place.”
Next door, house captains Jason and Jessica Eden oversaw volunteers rebuilding the backstairs and painting inside. The Edens are both in their late 20s and this is their first year serving as house captains.
“It’s been a learning process, but it has been a lot of fun,” Jessica Eden said. “The key to today was flexibility. We had great helpers who were able to switch tasks to whatever they were most comfortable with.”
Later Jessica would provide a gift to the homeowner to commemorate the day. The Resurrection Art Guild had offered to donate their artwork to all the homeowners. Attached on the back was the workman’s prayer.
“We told the residents to hang it in their house so they could think of the day they had,” Hendenkamp said. “Also, we wanted them to know that we had prayed over the house. Most of the homeowners really liked it – some cried and it was very touching.”
This was Hendenkanp’s first year leading the program at Resurrection, and he is already looking towards 2014. He will be recruiting house captains in May and June. Resurrection will focus again on the Wendell Phillips neighborhood. Hendenkanp looks at companies like Hallmark and Black & Veatch which helped with 50 houses and thinks Resurrection can reach even bigger heights. Regardless of the number, Hedenkanp and house captains such as Holsteen can see the progress being made in the neighborhood.
“I think if we keep being out in front, then Christmas in October and other projects will just explode,” Holsteen said. “I think the word of mouth and the physical presence here will catch fire.”