Restoring Homes, Renewing Lives

Two AmeriCorps service members are lending hands and hearts to Paducah neighbors in need

You may have heard some buzz around town about an event called Repair Affair. (Or it could have been the buzz of an actual saw!) You’ve probably wondered what it was all about. You might also have noticed a couple of young women, whom you didn’t recognize, speaking at various civic meetings and hanging out at the neighborhood coffee shops.

Meet Virginia Siegel and Melissa Wortman. Both are AmeriCorps service members who help with such local charitable events as Repair Affair.

Repair Affair, a bi-annual event held every fall and spring, is a program of the Midtown Alliance of Neighbors. Virginia and Melissa were appointed by AmeriCorps to assist with this event and to coordinate construction projects for a number of home repair and rehabilitation projects in Paducah.

Volunteers work side by side with the AmeriCorps service members making local neighborhoods better places to live. Each person, no matter what their personal challenges, has something to offer the program and the families it benefits.

In the fall, Repair Affair restored ten Paducah homes, easing the burden and ensuring that ten Paducah families would continue to have a roof over their heads. Through partnerships with local agencies, such as Lifeline Ministries and Midtown Alliance of Neighbors, the event provides homeowners with the resources they need to improve basic living conditions in their homes.

As funding is always a challenge for charitable projects, Virginia and Melissa are making a tour of Paducah, seeking any untapped financial resources that will allow them to continue the Repair Affair projects in coming years. With grant funds being much more limited these days, the young women are doing their best to promote awareness of the event and the programs that Americorps offers to Paducah. They hope that building awareness will help secure funds for future projects.

When Virginia and Melissa came to Paducah, they assumed their work would be mostly about home rehabilitation and repair. They were surprised to find that it was much more about relationships.

“I thought the best thing about being here would be about restoring the buildings, but what has been most rewarding to me is meeting so many wonderful people from all walks of life,” said Virginia. “Being a part of transforming their lives has changed my mind about my own long-term career goals.”

You might wonder why two young women, capable of landing good-paying jobs in larger cities, would willingly choose to spend 12 months of their lives working as volunteers. Just talk to them and you’ll begin to understand what motivates them.

“The homeowners we work with are so appreciative of what we do,” said Melissa. “Anything we do, no matter how small, is wonderful to them. I wasn’t expecting that. So, a lot of what we do is not just about working on the project, but it’s more about working on the project for the homeowner we’re serving.”

Both women’s journeys began after graduation—Virginia with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Historic Preservation from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and Melissa with a Masters degree in Historic Preservation from Ball State University.

Virginia and Melissa will complete their first year with AmeriCorps in August and are hoping to sign on for a second year in order to complete more local projects. With the support of local donations, their work will continue as planned, restoring the homes and lives of several local families.