Savannah helps save homes

Savannah nonprofit helps save homes, improve lives for locals in need

@JSkutch

Rosa Conyers knew it was coming.

But when the constant drip, drip from her ceiling following two winter storms in 2016 finally gave way to a cave-in she could not find anyone to help her.

With the assistance of Community Help Inc., a faith-based Savannah nonprofit whose members specialize in helping folks like Conyers, her three-bedroom home in southside Savannah got a new roof last year.

And a repair and paint job in the bedroom which left her with a home she can remain in and be proud of.

“There was no one there to help,” Conyers recalled. “It was so aggravating it left me in tears. …“I didn’t know what to do.”

Conyers’ project was one of 26 homes that got help last year from a combination of Community Help and the City of Savannah to replace or repair roofs and allow residents to remain in familiar confines.

Community Help’s president, Bernie Polite, and his crew of volunteers have helped replace 75 roofs and make related repairs since 2011.

In most of those cases, the recipients have been older, low-income Savannahians, many of them overburdened by upkeep costs on fixed incomes.

Those chances to make a difference is what Polite and his team want.

Polite, a lifelong member at St. Philip Monument AME Church, and his pastor, the Rev. George Moore Jr., created Community Help in 2005. The Rev. Marsha Verdree, also a church member who sits on the nonprofit’s board, helped them come up with the idea of delivering hot meals prepared at the church for delivery to elderly or shut-ins who needed food assistance and a little conversation.

Polite, long one of Savannah’s champions for families and children, gathered with a small group of like-minded people in 2006 to form the initiative targeting low-income, minority neighborhoods.

Some of the core group, like Polite and his treasurer, Charles Nelson, are retired.

Others, like Verdree with city housing’s Hope V project, Claudia Clarke at Carver State Bank, and attorney-judge Bonzo Reddick have day — and night — jobs. They were joined by George Bowen, a retired Air Force colonel and former Savannah-Chatham school superintendent who now works on Chatham County projects, and computer whiz Keith Lord. Other board members have cycled off over the years.

And there is aid from Bill Broker, managing attorney at Georgia Legal Services, with the legal issues.

The group has functioned on a limited budget but with a large vision.

One of its core philosophies is to improve the lives of people in the community as part of outreach “outside the church walls,” Polite said.

“We’re talking about people who are not rich,” he said. Their mantra: Low-income residents deserve a break.

While many of the group’s targets are seniors, Polite said “Young people have always been something that we want to stay connected with.”

He was a veteran of the Savannah-Chatham Youth Futures Authority effort for children and families, many of whom were in Savannah’s chronic high-poverty neighborhoods.

Growing vision

“We just expanded our mission,” he said.

That expansion included working with Savannah-Chatham school students in historical preservation efforts and Early College.

A $5,000 grant in 2009 moved the group into a good place, allowing it to expand beyond the $200-$300 donation range, he said.

“Then we got another one and it was of to the races,” he said.

And he conceded it took a couple of dry starts to find the group’s niche.

Reaching out

In Conyers’ case, she found herself fighting a losing battle.

Her insurance company refused to cover the damage and local agencies including the Economic Opportunity Authority could not be of much help.

“I didn’t now what to do,” said the native Savannahian and 1982 graduate of Jenkins High School.

She had lived in the neighborhood for 20 years with her three children, most that time working as a customer representative at the county’s major hospitals.

Finally she arrived at the city’s housing office wher she met Anita Smith-Dixon and her receptionist Denise Campbell who was able to send her to the right people.

“So God sent this lady to me,” Conyers said.

Through Campbell she met with Community Help folk and shortly thereafter a local contractor they recommended spent two days at home and new roof was on.

“It was very quick, about a month,” she said.

Polite just smiled.

“We have a list of approved contractors she could select from,” he said. “They fast-tracked it because you were in trouble. That streamlined it.”

“I went with the one they recommended and that’s when it got done quickly,” she said.

“The address has been her home for years,” Conyers said, adding she plans to remain there. “I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

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