Reaching Out With Caring Hands
I will show you my faith by my works. John 2:18
Most people see retirement on the Outer Banks as an opportunity to brush up on their golf skills or spend leisurely days on the beach reading accumulated piles of books. But for Hal Denny and the members of the Caring Hands ministry, it’s a chance to haul lumber, wield hand tools, and help others in need.
“The Caring Hands ministry of the Duck United Methodist Church is a group of 25 men and women that want to give back in our retirement to people in great need,” says the soft-spoken Denny. “We are disciples of James, and we believe that faith without good works is not enough.” By assisting those who have pressing home maintenance issues, but neither the financial nor the physical ability to handle it themselves, the members of Caring Hands are able to better their community.
“We started in the late ‘90s with mission trips to the Redbird Conference in western Kentucky. That was the impetus for the ministry. We were out there three or four consecutive years. Then the ministry started to gel.” Since that time, Denny’s team has worked consistently both locally and out of state in areas such as Biloxi, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina hit. It’s their dedication to serving others that keeps Caring Hands so highly in demand.
“We do it because we like to work with our hands and we’re able.” Denny lists retired general contractors and electricians among their members, but notes that they’re not all trained in trade. Denny, for instance, uses his skills to coordinate jobs, collect funds, and evaluate proposed projects. Together, he and his crew make a nice fit. “I don’t think that I would want our group to be any larger,” he adds. “It’s large enough that on any given project we’re able to put a team together.”
Denny finds there are plenty of projects to keep him and his crew busy. Within the last year they’ve worked on at least 15 projects, including a large job for the Beach Food Pantry. For six months, Denny and his crew dedicated upwards of 1,500 man hours renovating a former bagel shop in Kitty Hawk into a permanent home for the Food Pantry. But many other jobs are small, and often only take a few days. “We’ve built an untold number of handicap ramps and associated decks throughout Dare, Currituck, Camden, Pasquotank, and Bertie counties,” Denny says.
Some jobs stick with him, both for their scale and the help they were able to provide. “A few years ago we built a house for a gentleman in Pasquotank County whose home had been destroyed by a tornado. We also built a home for a disabled fellow whose home in Colington was completely destroyed by Hurricane Irene.”
Yet sometimes it’s the smaller jobs that make a profound difference in people’s lives and bring a light to Denny’s eyes. “There’s a young lady in Mann’s Harbor, a high school student. She and her boyfriend were in a car accident that left her unable to walk. We were able to rehab their home — widen doorways, build a handicap bathroom — so that she can move around on a motorized scooter, which we bought for her. And she has been able to go back to school because of that scooter.” He smiles, recalling another project. “We helped another young lady in Wanchese with multiple sclerosis. She had to move back in with her parents. The house had little, narrow halls and doorways, which we widened. I drop in on her every once and while to see how she’s doing. We’re buddies.”
There’s no end to those who need Caring Hands, and projects can be as simple as doing odd jobs around the house for one of the widows in Duck Methodist’s congregation. However, most jobs come from outside sources such as the Interfaith Community Outreach (ICO) organization where they find people in need through Social Services and refer them to Caring Hands. Caring Hands even rehabbed a building in Kill Devil Hills to provide ICO a permanent home.
“We also work with the Outer Banks Community Relief Foundation (OBCRF) — we get a lot of referrals from them. We go talk to the candidates, see what the situation is, get a feel for what’s needed,” Denny says. While Caring Hands has built many homes and rehabbed houses for accessibility, he adds that they make it a priority to do whatever is necessary. “The community that we serve frequently lives in trailer homes with deteriorated floors, leaking roofs, and rain coming in through the windows. We do a lot of work on old trailer homes because they’re the people in need.”
Projects can also come from word of mouth. “One of our key people, Shelby Hines — a retired contractor and our lead man in the field — became aware of a situation in Kitty Hawk. A single lady in a trailer park was in desperate need of a new roof. We got her to ICO, and they came up with some of the materials, but not all. An individual who lives in that community heard about what was going on and gave us a $500 check to help out.”
Caring Hands provides 100 percent of the labor on every job they take, but funding and materials come from a variety of sources depending on who they’re working with. If they’re partnering with ICO or OBCRF they generally get the cost of the materials from those organizations, though some of it might come through Social Services. At other times, when they’ve worked with Liberty Christian Church and the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, Caring Hands has provided half the funding. When it falls on the ministry to provide the money, Denny says that the people at Duck Methodist are very generous and funding is not usually a problem. Most recently, they were able to buy the materials for the new Food Pantry, all of which they purchased locally.
“We never seek publicity, we don’t want it,” Denny says. “Well, you know, Jesus said, when you pray, pray alone.” He shrugs. “When you do these good things, you’re not doing it for yourself.” Denny is proud, yet humble, when it comes to the work he and his fellow team members provide through Caring Hands. “The ministry is greatly bonded to one another, we enjoy great camaraderie, and we neither seek nor desire any special recognition. We are servants.” With a twinkle in his eye and a smile, he adds, “We have fun.”
Meaghan Beasley is a freelance writer on the Outer Banks. While she wielded a hammer on three Habitat for Humanity houses, she could learn a lot from the Caring Hands team.