Construction knowledge and a heart for those who are hurting – that’s what brought Clarence Atsma to Home Repairs as project manager this August.
“I was working at Habitat for Humanity at the time, along with my wife Evan, as a house leader. Over the course of 12 weeks, we would build an entire house with volunteers. My main focus was prepping for build days, guiding volunteers on the build day and doing touch-ups or finishing projects that weren’t yet completed,” Clarence said.
“I love finding out how things work, putting things together and taking things apart. Before Habitat, I worked with my brother-in-law’s construction company for a while, and he was the one who actually found out that Home Repairs was looking for a project manager. He thought it would be perfect for me because of my background working with volunteers and knowledge of construction.
“I had never heard of Home Repairs; they were not even on my radar, so it was funny to find out that they do a similar thing to Habitat. But I talked to [then-Executive Director] Mark Wolf and Board Chair Bill Isaac about the job, and a couple of months later, here we are!”
Before he’d ever picked up a hammer to build a home, Clarence spent his college career in an unrelated – yet helpful – field.
“I actually graduated with a degree in theatrical performance and theater production with a minor in philosophy. I laugh that I have a completely useless degree, but at least I can contemplate and ask myself why all the time,” Clarence said. “But that person-to-person contact or human communications helps in my interactions with volunteers.
“I used to build something that looked like a house for a set that was used for about two and a half weeks, then we’d tear it down and start over. Working with Habitat was fun because I got to build a house that actually lasted for years!”
His educational and vocational background prepared Clarence for his role at Home Repairs, and his former living situation did, too.
“Evan and I used to live on the West End of Atlanta – the Bluff. It houses a lot of very low-income families, about 85% of whom are renters. With Habitat, we would go to work to help build a house sometimes within a thousand feet of where we lived,” he said. “It was interesting to see different spots transform a little bit, but the Bluff is just an incredibly violent and dangerous area.
“There’s definitely poverty and need in metro Atlanta, but there was a higher density of depravity and hurt where we lived. There’s just a different perspective that comes with living and experiencing that every single day – it was incredibly eye-opening.”
That experience shaped Clarence’s perspective – especially of the homeowners who contact Home Repairs for assistance.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak going on with the people we serve,” he said. “It’s not easy, and it’s not glorious. There’s only what we can do, and the rest of the glory goes completely to God.
“I don’t ever feel like I’m ‘giving back’; it feels like I’m helping to stop a cycle. A lot of the homeowners we serve are older, and they don’t have the opportunity to do any of the work that we get to bless them with. Whether there’s mold on the floor, water damage or a wall falling in – we get to prevent something horrible from happening. I want to stop this kind of thing from happening in the first place.
“And a lot of our homeowners are just overwhelmingly grateful, gracious and very generous. They want so desperately to be a part of what we’re doing – whether by cutting up some fruit to give us for lunch or a water bottle or something. And the entire time, they’re just praising Jesus.”
Even in the short time he’s been with Home Repairs, Clarence has been deeply impacted by the homeowners.
“One woman had a fallen powerline and trees in her yard. The previous owner had pocketed the money insurance provided to remove the trees, and she couldn’t afford to have them removed,” he said. “When we came to help, her home didn’t have power and her dependent sons have varying levels of autism – but everything she says out of her mouth is, ‘Thank you’ and ‘God is so good’. What a heart – to be still so passionate and full of life!
“So many of these homeowners just love God and love Jesus, and we get to go in and be a part of that.“
Clarence has a vision to do even more – for both Home Repairs helpers and helpees.
“We have such a wellspring of knowledge available through our retired volunteers,” he said. “They dedicate themselves to repairing with kindness and love as part of this ministry. I’d like for Home Repairs to train younger volunteers who want to learn how to do these trades so this work can continue. People who are going to trade schools and need hands-on practice hours; small groups in churches for men, women and couples – we don’t want to exclude any sort of volunteer base at all.
“There are plenty of people who know so much more than I do who can share tips, tricks and secrets. Secrets die with people, and I just want to absorb those, keep learning and teach more people to expand [Home Repairs’ collective] knowledge.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers; in fact, there’s more need than we know to do with or can handle,” he said. “We need people to help in every area of this organization. If you have a heart for this kind of ministry, please come and be a part of it – we’d love to have you!”