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As the Covid pandemic subsides, WARM NC finds itself short on volunteers

City of Wilmington

Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, or WARM, is a nonprofit that helps with home repair in the Cape Fear region. But the organization is struggling with a lack of volunteers. WHQR’s Kelly Kenoyer interviewed WARM Director of Development Suzanne Jalot about it.

Reporter Kelly Kenoyer: I'd love to just have you start by explaining what warm does for this community.

WARM Director of Development Suzanne Jalot: Essentially, we provide free home repairs for low income homeowners. That is kind of the gist of what we do. We also work to preserve the affordable housing that already exists in the area, so we help people age in place safely. We perform urgent safety related repairs, and we also help after a storm comes through, so disaster recovery as well.

KK: Okay, and what's the income range of the folks that you serve?

SJ: Well, I can tell you, the average yearly income of one of our homeowners is around $19,000 a year.

KK: Oh, wow, no kidding. So I understand that in the past, you've relied on volunteers to kind of perform some of this work, can you tell me about the role of volunteers with WARM?

SJ: Absolutely, volunteers are so critical to what we do. And we really rely on the volunteer labor to leverage the funding that we get. And so instead of having to pay construction staff, we have volunteers that that do the labor and we do have construction professionals on staff, so they lead volunteers through the projects. But the you know, the volunteers are just so important to have on on-site, and they perform a lot of the repairs. We do a lot of flooring repairs, or trimming trees, or shrubs or things like that, to get them away from the house. We build a lot of stairs and landings and the volunteers help us do that. So really, they're the ones on the ground, picking up the hammer. One of the things that we always like to say as well is that we don't require any construction experience. So, you know, you can come in and and as long as you can hold a hammer, we can teach you how to use it, is what we say. So that's another another great thing thing about the program.

KK: Can you tell me about how volunteers reduced costs for your program?

SJ: [When we have a volunteer,] we don't have to pay a construction professional an hourly rate to build stairs and landings, we get that labor for free. And so a lot of the grants that we depend on actually require us to have matching volunteer labor. So we assign a value to that volunteer labor. And right now it's it's right around $27 an hour. So for every volunteer that comes and works on a project or rebuild, that's $27 an hour that we don't have to spend.

KK: Wow. But I understand that you have a lot fewer volunteers now than you did in the past. Can you tell me what the trend is?

SJ: Yes, the trend is unfortunately downward. And it really it happened after COVID, you know? Because a lot of people just we weren't out and in a group setting anymore. And so our numbers, our volunteer numbers haven't really rebounded since COVID. That's one part of it.

We also think another part of it is we depend — our volunteer days are Monday through Thursday and Saturdays. So Monday through Thursday, you think, well, a lot of people are working. So a lot of our volunteers need to be retired, and a lot of our core volunteers in the past are aging out. So they're not able to come out and volunteer during the week, like they used to, and we're not getting new volunteers in.

KK: Gotcha. So, I guess I'm wondering what can folks do to support WARM in your efforts here in the community?

SJ: Gosh, there are so many ways that you can support warmth, of course, the the number one thing that we need volunteers, we really really appreciate our volunteers. We love our volunteers. Come out, pick it pick up a hammer, help us build some stairs and landings help us repair those floors, repair walls, all those sorts of things. But if you can't volunteer, If you can't donate donations are obviously another big thing we rely on donations to to survive. Just helping us spread the word I always like to say is helpful. You know, maybe you can't come out on Thursday, or maybe you don't have $50 to donate today. But you can tell somebody about us and the more people that we can that know about us, the more pool the bigger pool we have to choose from for volunteers and donors.

KK: Well, thank you so much for coming into the studio today.

SJ: Thank you so much for having me.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.