When Jackie Early purchased her home, she had also bought $2,000 in material for the needed underpinning. After she ended up on disability, the project was put on hold.
Then the volunteers from FISH (Floyd Initiative for Safe Housing) stepped in.
“One day they went all the way around it and did the framing,” Early, a local school bus driver, said. The following Thursday they returned. “That day it was cold and windy - they came out here for nothing to help me out. I was just so impressed.”
The underpinning made a “huge difference” in adding warmth to the home, and Early said she expects to save on her heating bill.
Early also had a problem with animals getting access to the heat duct under the house. “Keeping the animals out was a big deal. They had eaten all the way down to the heat tape.”
The FISH volunteers did excellent work, Early added. “I was highly satisfied, and they were so professional and nice. I can’t say enough good stuff about them.”
The work at the Early home is just one of several repair jobs FISH volunteers have completed since the organization was founded in 2017.
Blair Watkins, repairs coordinator, began working with FISH this past June. He helps to assess proposed work for the group.
The goal is for prospective projects to be limited to about $1,000 in cost and from one to two days in labor time. Repairs that make homes “safe, warm and dry” is the focus, Watkins said. FISH volunteers don’t do such things as paint walls or put down wood flooring, he added.
Referrals for prospective FISH projects are often made by New River Community Action, New River Valley Agency on Aging and the Department of Social Services. FISH also hears from the homeowners themselves.
Martha Peters in Check had called HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) for help at her house. She was then connected with a Floyd resident who told her about FISH. The volunteers from FISH responded and made the needed repairs. She is thrilled to have a safe, usable porch and steps. “I don’t’ even have words to express how much I appreciate how much they did,” she said. “What a wonderful organization!” Her advice to others in need is to “give ‘em a call. Don’t be ashamed to do it.”
Sixteen volunteers have worked with FISH in recent months. Watkins said volunteers of all skill levels are always needed and welcome. Electrical and plumbing expertise is also appreciated.
The biggest challenge in his work, Watkins noted, is “seeing how many deteriorated houses there are in Floyd.
“We have a limited number of people. If we had more money and volunteers, we could do more.”
One local resident with a water problem ended up having to move out of her house. Watkins added the group sees things “beyond the scope of what FISH can do…but you don’t want to forget about them and move on.” That’s when networking with other agencies is important.
Roofing projects are usually too expensive for FISH. While FISH volunteers have been able to do some patch work on roofs, Watkins explained, they are not be able to replace a roof, which could cost from $5,000 to $10,000.
FISH volunteers have tackled deck reconstructions, bathroom issues and other repairs since Watkins has been working with the group. Several projects have provided underpinnings for mobile homes in Floyd County, where 22% of the housing solution is mobile homes. In addition to keeping mobile homes warm and the wind from blowing underneath them, underpinnings address freezing issues with pipes, limit access for rodents and animals, and prolong the life of the home, Watkins said.
Current FISH volunteers are a mix of retired and semi-retired individuals and others in the work force. Watkins works part-time for FISH, and it is the only paid position with the group. He also teaches developmental math at New River Community College, provides tutoring and does a little farming. He and his wife, who live in Floyd County, are expecting their sixth child.
Helping with FISH is rewarding, Watkins said. “I think everybody that is involved likes helping the people in their community (and is thinking) ‘I’m able to make a difference and I’m going to do that’.”
The group is working to complete more projects before Christmas. During the colder winter months, Watkins will continue to do assessments.
If interested in being a FISH volunteer, email email@example.com, or call 540-200-5892.