Rochester Hills resident Rick Bronder said he was searching for something to do in his retirement when he and a small group of friends starting meeting for Bible study sessions at a local Panera. The group morphed into FaithWorks, a local non-profit that provides building and handiwork to widows and others in need of assistance.
"Bill (Pinho) was at Kensington (Church) and saw a woman he knew who just lost her husband, who he worked with. She said they formed a widow's club at the church, and a lightbulb went off... so we started going to their meetings, and these poor gals, some were really lost, like they didn't know how to change a furnace filter and simple stuff. So that's what we did.
"Then an amazing thing happened: men started coming to our group who were licensed, skilled-trades guys. Electricians, and plumbers, and it became more than just fixing a leaky valve in a toilet."
From the original group of seven or eight, the group has grown to more than 80 men, as well as some women. In 2010, FaithWorks received its 501(c)(3) status, allowing them to taken on donations to undertake larger projects. In addition to widows, Bronder said the group helps single moms, those with disabilities and veterans.
"I can't tell you how many wheelchair ramps we've built. We've also put additions on houses," he said.
Those projects include "Hunter's Room," a home addition for a Waterford family and their son, Hunter, who was born with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other disabilities. The new addition provides needed space, a specialized bathroom and a barrier-free environment at the home. They've also constructed entire houses for those in need. Likewise, the group still provides emergency fixes for those requiring it.
"We partner with the OPC and Neighborhood House, and we get a ton of requests from them. They will pay us for some materials, but when you get into putting on roofs and furnaces, that's a challenge," Bronder said. "A major problem is that people don't have the money to call a contractor. They can't afford a plumber.
“We put a hot water heater in for a guy in a mobile home. He was 68, and when we showed up, he showed us an estimate for $1,500. He said, 'I don't even have $150.' After we put it in, he just hugged us. That was an hour job to do, and it changed this guy's life. We run into a ton of that."
FaithWorks has also partnered with the Rochester College basketball team and has received assistance from Rochester's chapter of 100 Women Who Care. Bronder said the organization also partners on some projects with the city of Rochester Hills.
“One problem is that we are a bunch of old men, so we don't lift like we used to. We got a call from Coach Pleasant (at Rochester College) saying he would help. Four big guys showed up, and it was fantastic. He said, 'I have 17 more, just let me know when you need some help.’”
As a Christian group, the volunteerism coincides with the mission of the college.
"Hopefully, they are picking up some skills, but they are also seeing grown Christian men as mentors. They are seeing what guys can do who believe they were put on this earth to serve. They know this is something they are going to carry for the rest of their lives."
Photo: Laurie Tennent