NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Nearly 300 high school students from 10 states are volunteering in Wilmington this week in partnership with the Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, completing repairs on 60 homes throughout the week.
WARM's goal is to keep low-income homeowners in their homes, making safety and accessibility improvements, from energy upgrades to exterior repairs.
Starting at 9 a.m., the students arrived at the participating families' homes, eager to begin a week's worth of improvements with Wilmington area residents.
"You know it's probably kind of nerve-racking for them to let strangers into their home - to trust them, to make improvements to their home," said JC Skane, WARM's Executive Director. "But they've been so welcoming, so excited, and usually weeks like this, the homeowners and the volunteers will get really close and its sad at the end."
For residents who will see such a meaningful benefit to their homes, the relationships they form with the students from around the country perhaps means just as much.
"My kids are grown," said Andy Smythe, who recently had knee surgery and along with his wife Chris lives on a fixed income. "It's like more kids now. You know, I treat them just like they were mine."
It's a facet of the program that lasts long after home improvements are finished.
"We make connections with each of those residents," said Brian Anderson, a camp director. "When they leave at the end of the week, we have a program where we invite the residents to come and join us, and thank them for letting us come into the community."
"You have kids that remember residents that they went to camps several years ago that they stay in touch with. It's pretty out of this world."
WARM was founded in 1998. In 2009, when Skane joined the program, WARM completed 60 rebuilds. Eight years later, they will see that number equaled in a week.
A total of 280 students from Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin will stay at Ashley High School and repair floors, build ramps, steps and landings, repair and paint siding, and install grab bars and toilets throughout the week.