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More About Women Roofers

Published in WMU North Carolina magazine 2006

“Doing unto others” has taken an interesting twist with a group of women from Rutherford County.  Most, but not all, are Baptist, and most, but not all, are members of Women on Mission groups in their churches.

What they share is a heart for helping others.

The all-female crew, mostly middle-aged (the oldest regular participant is 75) work under the direction of a veteran construction team leader who is male and a very good sport about all the ribbing. They are now recognized throughout the county for their volunteer efforts.

“Part of the fun is getting a group of women together to do this,” said group organizer Lori Herrick. “But if we can help draw attention to the huge need for housing repair in this county, then that makes it all worthwhile.”

The group has even taken their skills on the road. Last spring, 18 of them traveled to Gulfport, Mississippi, and replaced the roof on one Katrina-damaged home. Plans are under way for a similar venture in Pearlington, Mississippi, this spring.

The Women Roofers formed in the fall of 2002 when Rutherfordton First Baptist sponsored a team to roof a portion of a house for a local nonprofit, Rutherford Housing Partnership (RHP). The three who showed up to help veteran roofing team leader, Rev. Billy Honeycutt, president of the board of RHP and association director of Green River Baptist Resource Center, happened to be women.

According to Herrick, “Billy said, ‘Let’s get to work’ without a second thought to the fact that we were women who had no clue what to do.”

Susie Kernodle, one of those first Women Roofers, is also a seamstress.  She caught on quickly.  “I realized it’s no different from laying out a dress pattern.  You just use different tools.”

The more Herrick and Kernodle talked about their roofing experience, the more the idea of an all-female crew formed.  Roof after roof, the enthusiasm spread, until now 53 women and a couple of guys get the email announcements about when the next project will begin.

“Women do a lot in the community and the schools,” said Terri Wells, “but it’s not often this kind of physical work. I like the challenge of doing something I’ve never done before.”

Their involvement has spread to others in their churches. When the group traveled to Gulfport, last spring, six local high school students joined them. This spring, three guys plan to join the women, including another crew leader so more sites can receive help.

Members of the group are anxious to return.

“I can't get all those ‘blue roofs’ off my mind and the terrible conditions families in Mississippi are struggling with,” said Hazel Crook. “Besides, I don’t believe God put us here to just take up space. He wants us to give back in some way to ease the struggles of others.”

Terry Honeycutt agreed. “For me, it's not so much, ‘What would Jesus do?’ but ‘What IS Jesus doing?’ I want to join God's work where it is already in progress.  We can be the presence of Christ for those people whose lives were fundamentally changed by Hurricane Katrina, just as I'm sure they would be for us if the tables were turned.”

Last spring, the group worked with the NC Baptist Men and replaced a substandard tin roof with sheeting and shingles, replaced and built facia boards around the roof and removed ceilings inside a house in a neighborhood less than a mile from the beach. This year, the group is working through the Pearlington Recovery & Resource Center in Pearlington, Mississippi, a devastated rural area between Gulfport and New Orleans.

“I feel like the work we do can meet needs for people whose lives were turned upside down the day of the hurricane,” Herrick said. “It is my prayer that our labor offers hope to those who have lost everything.”

The experience changed the roofers. “I came back from Mississippi with so much more than I took down there,” said Dianne Ledbetter, “a deeper spiritual sense, both as an individual and in relating to others in our group. I feel a stronger camaraderie in our spiritual journeys now.”

“I don't know what this spring's trip to Mississippi will bring,” said Dianne Ledbetter. “It's a different group to a new area with more needs, but it doesn't matter. I feel confident that God will show us how we can be useful and helpful to some of the people in Pearlington, and that again, we will return home tired, but greatly enriched by our experience.”