Sarah Scarrow, a 47-year-old single mother of three adopted children, didn’t mask her tears of joy as the school bus blocking the view of her home rolled away in Aldergrove, British Columbia.
Overwhelmed with emotion, the Canadian mother exclaimed: “My house is gorgeous! Strangers did this for me! ‘Thank you’ just seems too little, way too inadequate.”
Scarrow’s house is the 15th home renovated by a Seventh-day Adventist-led team of volunteers over the past 12 years in an unusual community outreach effort. The volunteers, who work under the auspices of the local Church in the Valley, an Adventist church, call themselves the Extreme Home Repair team, and they take delight in changing people’s lives.
Scarrow, a Christian but not an Adventist, works full-time. But most of her paycheck goes toward the mortgage, leaving little for home repair and upkeep. So the Extreme Home Repair team got to work.
“Basically the entire electrical system was redone, top to bottom, which was a bit of a surprise, we weren’t expecting to do that,” team member David Russell told the local Langley Advance newspaper.
“We’ve moved rooms, we put in a brand-new legal suite so she can use it to rent for income, plus we put in a new back entrance going downstairs to a new bonus room that they were not really using, it was more for storage, and we just secured a donation for the pool, a new liner, pumps, everything,” Russell said.
New flooring, windows, a front door, and a driveway were also put in, the home was painted, and brand new fixtures, including a new stove and refrigerator were installed. In all, repairs are estimated at about $250,000.
Scarrow was surprised to see just how much had changed. Her first impression when she turned the corner of her street was shock at the huge amount of people. Glad to see all the volunteers, some friends and mostly strangers, she said to her children: “Wow! If those are the volunteers, I get to thank them all!”
Her amazement continued as the family toured the home, thanking volunteers and Church in the Valley again and again.
Less than an hour before the Church in the Valley team unveiled the home to Scarrow, volunteer Alex Weeks washed a paint brush and shared her thoughts.
“I talked to her [Sarah Scarrow] on the phone, and she is so sweet,” said Weeks, who helps renovate homes after the church team renovated the home where she lived with her mother and brother in 2010. “I want to do whatever I can to help her out. I know the feeling. I know she’s going to cry, and I love that. Tears of joy are so uncommon nowadays. … This is such genuine joy. You don’t get this anywhere else.”
Josh Kwiatkowski, Weeks’ brother, knows the feeling.
“They have the biggest hearts,” he said of the volunteers. “The Church in the Valley dedicates so much time to a family they barely know. If more people were like that everything would be better. I’ve never been a part of something so nice.”
Along with his sister, Kwiatkowski has volunteered every year since 2010.
“I’m not a part of the church, but seeing all these people come together to help people they don’t know …” he said, his voice trailing off. “I know what I felt like when I experienced it, so I’m just happy to help other people feel the same way.”
While the latest home makeover is considered the most challenging one to date, with volunteers working right up to the reveal, project supervisor Lorne Brownmiller said the work schedule was not unusual.
“It is always like this — right to the end — but it is always worth it when the family comes in,” Brownmiller said.
“Every year we have struggles,” Brownmiller added. “It slows you down, and you have to regroup and still try to keep moving on that timeline. To do what we do in 15 days is absolutely divine providence. It is a God thing from beginning to end. We hit our deadlines all because of our Leader in the heavens above.”
The church’s renovation projects begin with nominations in November, followed by months of planning, acquiring sponsors, and getting home repair-experienced volunteers lined up.
“We find out people’s expertise level, get professionals who know what they’re doing, and God will lead,” Brownmiller said.
The home makeovers start annually in early May and finish up after 15 full days of repair. Work is not done on Sabbath.
“Projects can be frustrating, but I see what we are able to do with a bit of time — a little bit of time in the scheme of things,” said Brownmiller, who owns a contracting business with his son and has worked with the church team since it started in 2004. “The blessings are enormous. The differences you can made in someone’s life in just 15 days. … I wouldn’t not want to be part of it.”
Church Pastor Mike Dauncey concurred. “A lot has to be accomplished” in a short amount of time, he said. “It’s the busiest thing I’ve ever done. Toward the end, there isn’t much sleep. … But seeing the family’s response is great.”
“The need is so great,” added Dauncey. “This is one way we can reach our community for Jesus in a unobtrusive way. Just meeting people’s needs where they are.”
Dauncey said the program wouldn’t be a success without huge community involvement. This year, participants included 85 construction sponsors, 100 church volunteers, and about 100 volunteers from the local community. On June 25, the Church in the Valley hosted a donor and volunteer appreciation night where church members thanked everyone, watched a video of the project, and celebrated.
Scarrow, who plans to join the team as a volunteer next year, said she was embarrassed when the team first came to her home.
“The house was in such need,” she said. “But I wasn’t judged. They said they respected me and honored me for being a single parent. They came and gave me such a boost.”
Scarrow had gotten repair estimates and prayed about the situation before the church offered to intervene.
“I wasn’t hopeless, but had no idea how it was going to happen,” she said. “A year later it is done.”
While living in a donated condominium during the two weeks of repair, Scarrow said that she and her children had prayed “every day for the volunteers — that they’d have joy while working on the house.”
“I was happy to see all the unity and friendship between the volunteers,” she said.
For now, Scarrow is digesting what has happened.
“This is beyond what I could have imagined,” she said. “This looks like a magazine — and this is my house. This is a life-changing experience. I wanted a safe place for my children. … It’s like somebody gave me Christmas times a million.”
Scarrow has a new, deeper perspective on volunteering. She talked about how she plans to have people over to talk and “see what God has done.”
“I’m asking myself, ‘Who can I give back to? How can I pay it forward?’ she said. “I am excited.”