Ira Schauer always wanted to live in Alaska.
In 1995, he finally got his wish. Retired from the Air Force and a job in Idaho, 64-year-old Schauer and his wife moved to Nikiski where they spent two years working in canneries. Later, Schauer briefly worked in the oil industry.
But living his dream meant Schauer and his wife lived without a dream house.
Their small makeshift house sits nestled in a grove of spruce trees, looking like a leftover from days long gone. The walls are plywood, the floor slopes. A section of tree-trunk holds up the roof over the porch.
Inside, the amenities are sparse -- a toilet and sink make up a bathroom at the middle of the open indoor space; a ragged blanket atop an old mattress standing in a dark back corner constitutes a bedroom; and a microwave and coffee maker sitting on a thin shelf designate the kitchen. A wood stove offers a soft glow of warmth, but even in June, it's chilly. One can only imagine the bitter cold of an Alaska winter.
Schauer always meant to finish the house, but hard times fall on everyone.
A couple of years ago, Schauer's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was treated, but not before the tumors spread to her liver. She died in March of 2001.
"I didn't have the money to finish (the house)," Schauer said. "I lost my wife, my income, and it still needed a lot of work."
World Changers volunteers swarm around Schauer's home during work Wednesday.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Finally, though, that work is getting done.
This week, Schauer's usually quiet house teemed with teen-agers, laughing, praying and hammering.
They divided rooms, insulated walls, replaced the roof and added siding to the house -- at no cost to Schauer.
The workers make up one of 13 crews who traveled to Nikiski this week with World Changers, a mission organization affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, to help low-income families, senior citizens and disabled people make much-needed repairs to their homes.
"It's a really powerful experience," said Celeste Bracey, an 18-year-old from North Carolina who is working on Schauer's home.
Bracey, who recently graduated from high school and plans to study special education at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte this fall, has some construction experience from volunteering for repair work after a flood in Greenville, N.C., and building a house during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic last summer. But, she said, this is her first experience with World Changers.
"I felt that helping other people in God's name is an awesome thing," she said, explaining her decision to join the trip. "It changes you. It strengthens your faith."
"It makes me feel good helping someone else," echoed Anna Lineberger, a 20-year-old volunteer working to put a floor into a nearby house. "It makes you appreciate what you've got."
The volunteers, mostly students, spend their days working on houses, then retire to evenings of worship services and team-building exercises. Each volunteer pays $345, plus airfare, to participate in the venture. All additional funding -- building materials, lodging, food and transportation -- must be provided by the host community.
This year, Nikiski Community Services -- a collaboration of North Peninsula-area religious groups, invited the team, organized and fund-raised for the projects and selected the houses to receive work. NCS set the volunteers up at Nikiski Middle-Senior High School for the week, located 80 to 100 area volunteers to provide meals and transportation and collected nearly $20,000 in monetary and in-kind donations.
That effort meant at least 13 of the 20 families who applied for the program could receive World Changers' help this summer, said Denver Copeland, chair of NCS and pastor of North Kenai Baptist Church.
"We want to work on the houses that fall through the cracks. The ones that don't meet the criteria for state or federal funding," Copeland said.
"We work on the ones with the most needs, the ones that don't have any hope."
The 13 houses need everything from wheelchair ramps to roofs to insulation and siding. They are spread between Redoubt Avenue in Kenai and the end of the Tauriainen Trail north of Nikiski.
Copeland added that the group may be able to do minor repairs on one or two additional homes, but any other work would have to wait one more year.
NCS already has scheduled two week-long World Changers work sessions for next summer, and Copeland hopes the work the group does this year will help inspire people to contribute to fund-raising for the future projects.
"These are just a few of many," Copeland said. "There are lots we can't get to."
But for the people whose houses will be warm and solid for the first time, a little bit is enough.
"It's just like God's blessing to me," Schauer said, looking around at the rapid improvements to his home. "They are wonderful workers, and I praise them all for their ability and supervision. It's amazing."
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