Local volunteers make repairs to Charter House

MIDDLEBURY — Members of the Congregational Church of Middlebury have logged a lot of miles during their annual service trips to such places as New Orleans, West Virginia and Missouri to help rebuild communities torn asunder by natural disasters and poverty.
This year, they’ve selected a philanthropic mission within mere steps of their majestic church in downtown Middlebury: The Charter House on North Pleasant Street. Owned by the church, the Charter House during the next few weeks will get a major facelift that will allow it — and the homeless who seek refuge there — to weather many more Vermont winters.
It’s all about giving back, and sometimes that means giving oneself a hand up, noted Congregational Church of Middlebury Trustee Dan Brown, one of around 15 people who on Monday were diligently peeling away the old, outer layer of the Charter House to prepare it for a sturdier surface.
“This is a way to bond and learn more about each other, our members and fellowship,” said Brown.
Volunteers are trying to replicate an experience they would enjoy on a typical service trip hundreds of miles away. While they’ll be able to sleep in their own homes, they will eat breakfasts and lunches together for the two-week duration of the work, which will involve removing the current exterior siding, putting in insulation, then installing HardiePlank siding and new windows and board trim. They’ll also paint the porch and pillars, the external doors, and — time permitting — portions of the south side of the building.
The vast majority of the 85 volunteer workers are retirees, several in their late-80s. Some younger folks have promised to help on weekends. Others have committed vacation time to the project. All share the goal of helping the church, which is on the cusp of some major capital upgrades.
The congregation has raised money to build an 8,023-square-foot addition onto the north side of its historic place of worship.
Once expanded, the church will have room to accommodate its administrative offices, currently located in the Charter House. That will allow the Charter House to ramp up its role as a homeless shelter. The non-profit Charter House Coalition organizes free community meals and has been managing the facility as an emergency shelter for families and individuals during the coldest period of the year, Oct. 16 to April 15. With support from the state of Vermont, the Charter House beginning this fall could begin providing day-time shelter to the homeless on a year-round basis.
The Charter House Coalition was founded in 2005 in response to critical food and housing needs in Addison County. The organization has an annual budget of approximately $185,000 and a volunteer base of more than 950 community members who contribute a combined total of around 23,500 hours of service each year. The CHC served 24,000 meals and housed 79 adults and children in 2014, according to Jessica Lipnack, who is helping to document the Charter House renovations.
Lipnack is also helping Margaret Carothers coordinate the many breakfasts and lunches for the hungry volunteers. The church is also providing ample supplies of coffee and water on site, to make sure the workers are alert and hydrated.
“We figured that by having food, that’s how you bring people together,” Lipnack said. 
Carothers also fills in at the church office and serves on several of the church’s leadership committees.
“It gives me a lump,” Carothers said as she surveyed the work in progress amid a thin cloud of dust and the whir of power tools. “There is as much need here as there is anywhere else. And the work that goes on in this building is phenomenal.”
Brown estimates it would have cost around $45,000 to have the Charter House renovations done by a private contractor. Doing the work in-house with volunteers is expected to cut the price down to around $16,000, he estimated. Project organizers gave a big shout-out to area businesses for making both financial and in-kind contributions to lessen the church’s financial outlay. For example, HJL Inc. of new Haven not only loaned the construction scaffolding, company officials helped set it up, according to Brown. And Omya Inc., which operates a large quarry in Middlebury, contributed $1,208 to pay for special safety garb to ensure workers are protected from any hazardous material (like lead paint) to which they might become exposed during the job. Countryside, the Swift House Inn, Dundon, Casella, Habitat for Humanity, Foster Brothers Farm, Vermont Integrated Architecture and Awesome Graphics have also provided support, according to a big sign in front of the Charter House.
Rich Carpenter has signed up for eight days of work.
Though he has spent his professional life surrounded by computers, Carpenter is pretty handy with a hammer and saw, as he demonstrated on Monday. He has participated in several of the church’s service trips.
“I like the feeling of doing things that are both productive and useful and getting a group of people working together,” Carpenter said.
Work is expected to proceed through Saturday, July 23.
Anyone interested in helping with the Charter House renovation project should send an e-mail with contact information, the type of help on offer, and indication of age (if under 18) to Rich Carpenter at [email protected] or Nancy Jakiela at [email protected]. More information on the project can be found at http://midducc.org/the-charter-house-challenge/#sthash.Uxrl6N2b.dpuf.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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