DECATUR – A broad definition of “neighborhood” is giving new life to a home built for Decatur's first black physician.
Members of First Church of the Nazarene, located at the city's far west corner, teamed up last weekend with the Near Westside Restoration & Preservation Society to get the 90-year-old house at 568 S. Haworth Ave. back to livable condition.
The first project the NWRAPS has taken on since the housing market collapsed seven years ago, the collaboration may also represent the first time the society has partnered with a church outside its boundaries.
“We're just the hands and feet of Jesus,” said Bill Hancock, who with wife Debbie started a small missions group two years ago to help other members of First Nazarene with home improvements but has since branched out to assist any homeowner in need. “I really like helping people, and I'm not too big on just sitting and reading.”
Known as Cracked Pots, the group takes its name from the Patsy Clairmont book, “God Uses Cracked Pots.”
Rob Urquhart of Decatur, a member of the church and a longtime friend of Mark Peters, chairman of the society's renovation committee, got the two organizations together. As a result, Cracked Pots provided a number of volunteers to help with the final cleanup the day before the home's first open house last Sunday with Area One Realtors.
John Phillips, a member of St. Peter African Methodist Episcopal Church, proposed that the society renovate the church's former parsonage, which led NWRAPS to buy the house in 2014.
Peters said over the past year the society has replaced the roof and windows, repaired water damage on the second floor, installed a new floor at ground level and painted throughout.
St. Peter bought the house in 1962 and used it as a parsonage until the death of the Rev. George Coates in 2003. Before that, it was the longtime home of Dr. John C. Ellis, a Virginia native who built it in the mid-1920s and lived there until the late 1950s and who practiced medicine in Decatur from 1915 to 1946.
The John C. Ellis Lodge No. 17 of the Prince Hall Masons is named in his honor.
NWRAPS President Donna Williams said she is delighted to be back in the business of resurrecting older houses and to have started with a family home of such significance.
She also thinks the collaboration has built “a wonderful bridge” between the society and the neighborhood and a suburban church.
Mary Ray, who lives a block or so east on Boyd Street, said the upgrade to a four-bedroom home in her neighborhood north of Lincoln Park is a welcome sight.
“Many houses sit vacant too long,” Ray said. “I grew up here, and I know you can't go back, but there was a real sense of pride when residents were not so transient.”
Volunteers with Cracked Pots swarmed the property Sept. 12, clearing away litter and brush, power washing exterior walls of the home and detached garage, washing windows, installing handles on the doors of kitchen cabinets and more.
One of the younger workers was Carolyn Kelley, 8, of Decatur, who began the workday cleaning storm windows with her mom, Christin Sebek.
Carolyn said she's enjoyed helping people ever since she helped serve the meal one time at the Good Samaritan Inn.
“It changed my life,” the girl said. “It showed me I could be good.”