Churches Join Forces to Help Woman

Doreen Franklin stands outside her new home at Pier Station while it was under construction.

The following story appeared in Clay Today on Sept. 10, 2009.

By Christina Leach Phillips


PIER STATION – A few months ago, Doreen Franklin lived in a house that was falling apart.  When it rained, she stuffed rags in the cracks of the walls to stop the water from coming inside.  Her house had no air conditioning or heat.

Franklin, 87, lived in the house in Pier Station, a small community between Green Cove Springs and Penney Farms for over 50 years.  She and her husband, now deceased, raised their children there.  But, over time, the house fell into disrepair including a termite infestation that left the wood frame house crumbling.

“It was rough because the house was coming down on me,” saidFranklin.

With no money to repair her house, she asked public agencies for help, but she was turned down because the house was too old and deteriorated.

Franklintalked to her friend, Shirley Coleman, who works for the Clay County Property Appraiser’s office. Franklinknows Coleman through their church, the New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Pier Station. 

“Ms. Doreen is a mother of our church,” Coleman said.  “And her son, Benjamin is a member of the choir.”  Benjamin Franklin, who lives with his mother, has a physical disability, she said. 

Coleman was looking for a way to help when a co-worker told her to contact the men’s group at the Middleburg United Methodist Church because they had recently helped a woman in a similar situation.

She contacted Joe Connor, a member of the “Arm and Hammer Committee” at the church. “Arm and Hammer means an arm with a hammer in it can build something,” said Connor.  “We always have a project going on.”

When Connor told the men’s committee about Doreen Franklin’s situation, they agreed to help.  After looking at her house, they decided it could not be repaired. “So we joined with theBethelChurchwith their men and ladies, and we set out to find Doreen Franklin a better place to live,” said Connor. 

Joining Forces

Thus, a united effort began between two diverse churches – one Baptist, with a mostly black congregation, and one Methodist, with a mostly white congregation, – joining forces toward a common goal.

Doreen Franklin owned a small piece of property in Pier Station that was large enough for a mobile home, said Connor. “The men from theBethelChurchcleared the land, and we applied for the permits,” he said.  But there was no sewer line to the property, and the county said it was too small for a septic system.

“I said to one of the inspectors, ‘Well, this permit will be issued because there are more people praying for it than your going against it!’” said Connor.

The inspector reread the chapter on it and said a permit could be issued.  “It took us three months, but we got our permit,” he said.  Then they started looking for a mobile home.

A vacant double-wide mobile home was found near Clay Hill, but it had been damaged by vandalism.  The owners agreed to give it to Doreen Franklin if someone would haul it away, said Connor.

“We looked at it to see if it was worth moving.  The carpenter said ‘yes’ we can make it work,” he said.  Two mobile installers agreed to move it within the budget that the two churches could provide.

“Now we have a permit for the septic system, we have a home on the property, and we’re broke!” said Connor.

A Cook-Off 

To raise money, the two churches decided to hold a “cook-off” – one church against the other – to see which church could produce the better barbeque, said Connor. It was held at the Racetrack service station in Middleburg.  Two men from the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic organization) were judges, and they called it a “draw,” he said.

The two churches sold over 475 meals and earned $4,000, which was enough money to pay for electrical work and a septic system that was installed by a contractor at cost, said Connor.

Then the men and woman from both churches combined their talents and worked together to repair the home, repaint the walls, and install carpet.  They installed a ceramic tile floor in the kitchen along with new cabinets and appliances.  The air conditioner was repaired.  “One carpenter even created a custom mantel for the fireplace,” said Connor.

Construction materials and supplies were donated from several sources including Habitat for Humanity, said Craig Van Gundy, former President of the Methodist Men’s Group.

The women of both churches also donated furniture, linens, and curtains, said Coleman. 

Project Completion

The project took over 11 months to complete.  “To keep the project going and keep men working together that long who are not getting paid, except for the reward of feeling good, is amazing,” said Connor.  “We had materials that were donated, and a lot of the stuff was bought out of the men’s pockets.  There were young men, senior men, and women from both churches working together,” he said.

The Franklins moved into their three-bedroom, two-bathroom home on July 11, said Coleman, whose husband, Henry Coleman, also worked on the home.

“I’m happier than I’ve ever been – I am so blessed,” said Doreen Franklin recently as she sat in a comfortable chair in her new, neatly-kept living room.  Next to her was a well-worn bible, and on her fireplace mantel, several family photographs were displayed. “Now I have cabinets in my kitchen and air conditioning!” she said.

A Celebration

To celebrate the completion of the project, the two churches decided to attend each other’s Sunday church services.  One Sunday, members of the Methodist church went to the Baptist service.

“It was awesome,” said Van Gundy.  “Their choir was unbelievable – a very inspiring group. My daughter told me that she had goose bumps.”

Connor said, “We enjoyed the camaraderie and fellowship, and then we said to them, ‘you all have got to come up and see us now.’”

So on Aug 9, for the first time in its history since the church started in 1919, the New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church closed its doors for its Sunday service, and the congregation went to Middleburg United Methodist Church.

“They joined our 9:45 a.m. service,” said Connor.  “They got to see a good old southern Methodist traditional worship service, and they had a ball.”  

Pastor Abbron Marshall from New Bethel Missionary Baptist Churchstood up and introduced himself and his congregation before the service that was conducted by Rev. Roger Moore from Middleburg United Methodist Church.

Afterward, they held a covered dish dinner.  “The food was good, and all were amazed that the two churches came together and accomplished something like that,” said Connor.

“It was wonderful,” said Shirley Coleman.  “Both churches came together and worked toward one goal – people black and white coming together and not looking at color but looking at putting someone in a home that they can be proud of.”

Van Gundy said, “We’ve got friends that we didn’t have before.  It’s just the beginning.  We are going to do a lot more projects together.”