Fixing homes and soothing souls, Rockwood-based volunteer apostolate has quickly grown since its founding in 2022
ROCKWOOD — When you need some help with that creaky floorboard, who you gonna call? St. Joseph's Helpers.
OK, so St. Joseph's Helpers doesn’t have a catchy theme song that resonates with 1980s Halloween nostalgia, but if someone needs help with a rickety staircase, a faucet that won’t shut off, or that burned-out lightbulb in the garage that’s hard to reach, this group of know-how handymen are there to help.
The Rockwood-based Christian nonprofit began in 2022, offering simple, free DIY services to help seniors and those with limited mobility complete various projects around the house.
“We do anything that wouldn’t require a contractor in regard to basic plumbing and electrical work — the ‘honey-do’ list kinds of things,” Rayna Bennett, executive director of St. Joseph's Helpers, told Detroit Catholic. “We do the odd jobs around the house, changing lightbulbs, smoke detector batteries, things people can’t do if they can’t get on a ladder or just can’t do it themselves.”
St. Joseph's Helpers operates out of the second floor of the rectory of St. Mary Parish in Rockwood, where Bennett coordinates projects for more than 100 volunteers. Workers arrive at the home with a detail of the project, the necessary supplies, information about other social services in the area, and, of course, prayer cards.
The apostolate started as a way to offer seniors and others a helping hand, but has since grown into a ministry of accompaniment for people who might feel lonely, Bennett said.
“We don’t just focus on the repairs; we also focus on the spiritual side, because a lot of our clients have not had company, so we give them companionship as well,” Bennett said. “We are not necessarily a companion organization, but our volunteers come in to talk to them, pray with them if they would like, and give them hope.”
Clients can call St. Joseph’s Helpers at (313) 900-5235 or visit sjhelpers.org to arrange a visit. Most clients and volunteers live Downriver or in Monroe County, Bennett said, but the organization would like to expand its volunteer base as it starts to receive requests from Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties.
Once volunteers access the tools and materials they need for the project, they schedule a time to come into the client’s home, complete the work and give them any information they might need about services in the area and offer a chance to pray with the volunteer if they feel comfortable.
Clients pay for the supplies needed to complete the project if they are able. If not, St. Joseph’s Helpers covers the cost. The nonprofit carries insurance to protect both volunteers and homeowners, and all volunteers go through a background check.
The idea for the organization started as a way to coordinate volunteers at St. Mary Parish in Rockwood who liked working with their hands, but quickly morphed as needs in the community became apparent.
“We do everything from grab bars to having coffee with a little old lady,” said Tony Rosati, a parishioner of St. Mary in Rockwood and president of St. Joseph’s Helpers. “The need goes beyond financial. A need can be someone who doesn’t know who to call, someone who needs prayer, someone who is in such despair they can’t take care of the simple things.”
St. Joseph's Helpers is on pace to complete about 1,000 projects this year, with a few being repeat clients or those referred by another client or an ad in the parish bulletin. The apostolate also has been reaching out to parishes in the Downriver and Monroe areas looking for volunteers who like working with their hands.
Mark Hill, another St. Mary parishioner, decided to volunteer after seeing an ad in the church paper.
“I volunteered through signs at the church that were put out in the bulletin that were looking for handymen willing to share their experience and knowledge,” Hill said. “I’ve been looking for something like this; I’ve been offering people in my church for years to do odd jobs for them. But this is a great opportunity to share the talent God gave me.”
When Hill is on a job, his wife often accompanies him to appointments so she can visit with the client, sharing a cup of coffee, conversation and a prayer, if requested.
“I’ve asked Reyna to assign my wife to all my projects, and she comes and does that,” Hill said. “She is awesome at it; she’s a very social person. She will sit down with the client while I’m doing the work, that way I don’t have to reach into that bag of tricks that I don’t have.”
When Bennett, Rosati and the rest of the team got started, the goal was to complete around 150 projects per year. With that number approaching 1,000, Rosati said more volunteers are needed across a wider geographic area in southeast Michigan.
“We are finding the need is greater than what we would have anticipated needing,” Rosati said. “It’s redefining our mission statement. We at first were a group founded on Christian values, dedicating our time and talent to make basic home repairs and maintenance. But there is more than that, and we are learning as we go.”
St. Joseph’s Helpers now hand out information about services such as Meals on Wheels, senior centers, rehabilitation facilities and local crisis pregnancy centers — whatever can help a person in need or someone they know.
Volunteers do not have to be card-carrying tradesmen, just knowledgeable helpers, Bennett said.
“There aren’t any licensing requirements since we don’t do any contracting work,” Bennett said. “All of our jobs are in the scope of a handyperson or a homeowner. Based on your ability, it could be moving boxes or some organizational work; we can find something for you based on your abilities.”
Beyond helping the community, St. Joseph’s Helpers say there is pride that comes with assisting someone in need, being a listening ear or praying with someone who might be lonely.
“When I offered to people in the church that I’m willing to help them fix that back step or rail, people used to be hesitant,” Hill said. “But I love doing work like this; it’s not work, it’s fun. And the enjoyment is I get to use the talents God has given me to have this fun.”