Thursday, June 16, 2011

People making a difference in McDonough

Article Courtesty Of Henry County Times©

Armie Robinson, right, discusses what’s next for the Simpson St. house with fellow volunteer Walter Lee Watson. Watson brings 40 years of construction knowledge to the project.

Photo by Nick Vassy, Henry County Times©

By Melissa Robinson
Contributing Editor

Betty Thompson spent most of her life cooking for others. For 35 years she worked as a cook at a nursing home in Stockbridge, but as much as she loves to cook for her family and friends, she’s restricted to a small part of her porch due to the condition of disrepair her home has fallen into.

She has lived in her house on Simpson Street in McDonough since she was three years old, and her father left her the property when he passed away. Now, in her mid 60s and unable to work because of a chronic leg condition that relegates her to a walker, Thompson no longer has the funds to do the much needed repairs to the nearly century old house.

Thompson, like much of the country, has been hit hard by economic uncertainty. In fact, she almost lost the house altogether when city inspectors came to inspect the property and deemed it unfit to inhabit. A two-story addition had to be torn down because of severe code violations and now several people, led by local resident, Armie Robinson, have taken up the cause of repairing her home, simply because she needs help.

Robinson was contacted by a good friend, who works for the City of McDonough. He learned of her plight when the friend told him that Thompson’s house was being eyed for demolition. With nowhere to go, he realized that losing her home would be the worst possible scenario for Thompson and decided to rally others to help with the effort of saving the McDonough resident’s home.

Robinson, who owns and operates the Trustus Fish Market on the corner of Racetrack Rd and Highway 42, said that he decided to help, simply because she was a person in need and he was able to do so.

“The way I see it, I may not be a professional carpenter, but my hands work, my back is healthy and I can follow directions,” said Robinson.

Robinson, his brother Ernie and several local police officers and city workers, have spent their own time making the repairs to Thompson’s home, often in the evening or on weekends. She needed electrical work re-done and Robinson was able to enlist a friend, who is an electrician, to do the work.

“My buddy is an electrician and he rewired the house for free and when I met his wife, for the first time, she said she had heard what we are trying to do for Ms. Betty, and she pulled five twenty dollar bills from her purse, and gave it to me to help with the repairs. That kind of shocked me, but that is what has been happening. This lady was a stranger to me, but to do that really left me speechless,” he said.

The work at Thompson’s home is part of a larger effort by Robinson, city workers and city officials, like councilwoman, Sandra Vincent and civic leader Shane Persaud, of the Henry County Fuller Center, to assist neighbors in the community.

Vincent is part of an organization called Piece by Piece, through the Atlanta Regional Commission, whose mission is to help halt foreclosures, stabilize neighborhoods and assist homeowners with code violation issues. She said she would like to see more church and civic group involvement, and wants to enlist young people in the community.

Vincent said she was also able to secure a commitment from Behr Paint to provide an assessment of needs and painting supplies, to assist with the ongoing effort of helping citizens.

“I’m hoping that local ministries and citizens and other organizations will get inspired in this grassroots effort,” said Vincent.

Persaud has been in contact with Thompson and several months ago, led an effort with a group of students from Eagles Landing Christian Academy, to perform cleanup and landscaping work on the property. The Fuller Center has been busy with tornado relief but is expected to play a role in not only Thompson’s house but also in the community effort of helping other senior citizens and those in need.

All of these different people from within the community are coming together to help a neighbor in need, but Robinson said it is bigger than that. It’s not about one person or one house, it’s about people in the same community helping each other, and he hopes that this effort will light a spark to lead other efforts in helping people maintain a quality of life.

As a child, Robinson remembered what it was like to not have much. A New Jersey native, he grew up relatively poor in rural Monroe Township in a ramshackle house out in the country.

“I know what it’s like to live that way. We grew up with very little, five kids in a little shack, rats and roaches. When I grew up, with my job and in my work with the kids, I put people in touch with resources. I want to continue to do that.”

He moved to the city of Trenton at age 21 and started working with the Boys and Girls Club. It was through his work with children that he caught the attention of board members who recommended him for a job with the Trenton Police Department. After twenty-five years in law enforcement in New Jersey and 37 years with the Boys and Girls Club, Robinson retired to McDonough. Even in retirement, he has found plenty to keep him busy.

“It’s not about renovating Miss Betty’s house, it’s about saving it. This could be my mother; this could be anybody’s mother. No one should have to live like that,” said Robinson.

As for Thompson, she is grateful for the help she has received and said she is surprised by how people who were once strangers, have given so much.

Robinson is organizing a work party/cookout to be held on Saturday, June 25 at Thompson’s home at 347 Simpson St. He and other volunteers will set up a smoker and sell barbecue, have a fish fry and provide other food for purchase to help raise money to finish repairing Thompson’s home. It’s also an opportunity for interested individuals or organizations to come out and volunteer to help.

“We need volunteers, for this project and for others. But if you can’t help that way, you can come out and buy a plate or a sandwich and see exactly where your dollars are going to,” said Robinson. “If you’re a carpenter, a painter or just know how to wash windows or cleanup, we need you.”

Robinson said he is also looking for donations of leftover building supplies, such as sheet rock, lumber, insulation and other materials.

“If someone is renovating their house or office and they have old doors or windows that are still in good shape, we can use them.” Eventually, he would like to have a material pool where people doing work in the community can come and take what they need at no cost.

Robinson said that the Simpson Road house has been a huge undertaking and welcomes anyone who wants to help in any way to show up on June 25 and be a part of making things better.

“When this project is over, there will be more. There are still a lot of people in need in the community, and we’ll take it one step at a time,” said Robinson. “These are our neighbors. That’s reason enough.”

For more information about the work party and cookout, contact Armie Robinson at 609-817-3316. Those interested in donating time, money or materials should also contact Robinson or Shane Persaud at 678-699-2308.