By Dave Russell

Volunteers last Thursday covered Jackson County like the dew, fanning out from Sylva First Baptist Church to Whittier, Balsam, Canada, Glenville, Tuckasegee, further south and points in between.

Hands On Jackson marked its third year of helping folks who needed help around and in the house.

“We did everything from building ramps, deck repair, pressure watching, gutter cleaning, yard maintenance, just a little bit of everything,” said Eddie Wells, director of the Department on Aging and one of the key organizers of the event. “We had one deck staining project. Each one was a little different.”

Ward Plumbing, Heating & Air handled some plumbing repairs.

“They did a bunch of other stuff, too, but we funneled all the plumbing issues to Ward,” Wells said. “They had about 24 volunteers for us.”

Ward completely shut down its business to complete 11 projects on the day, Office Manager Greg Galbreath said.

Going by the number of projects, Hands On 2021 outdid 2019 (COVID did not allow a 2020 Hands On), Wells said.

“When we decided to do this in the middle of the pandemic, we expected to do five, maybe 10 projects, maybe raise three to four thousand dollars, and maybe 50 volunteers,” he said. “In terms of volunteers this was not our highest number, but in terms of projects and sponsorships, this is the highest we’ve done.” 

The agencies involved in the effort identified 35 projects, and some teams did multiple projects on the day. 

“We had 170 volunteers,” Wells said. “During a pandemic, I’m just blown away by that number.”

The job is not completely done, as a few more projects are on the radar.

“We had a couple of projects that we could not get to, just not having enough volunteer teams for doing some of the work,” he said. “If we have some leftover funds we might look into doing that over the next couple of weeks. But it would only be projects that were submitted, we’re not opening it back up for people to submit projects.

“For instance, we have one more ramp project, but we have multiple construction type jobs, like ramps or deck repair.”

The local Lowe’s is a big part of the success of the event, Wells said.

“But I’m always hesitant to name sponsors because we have so many of them, “ he said. “This event shows how special people are in Jackson County. To have 170 volunteers, complete 35 projects and bring in $20,000 in sponsorships is simply amazing. And to do that in a pandemic just makes it even more special. Jackson County always shows up to help those in need. It’s a special place.” 

The number of projects taken on grows every year. 

“When we started this in 2018, I think we had about 30 projects,” Wells said. “We did 32 in 2019. I’m very happy anytime we can do 30 projects in one day.”

There is still room for expansion, he said.

“I think so from a project standpoint for sure, as long as we have enough volunteers to do the work,” he said.

The event is organized by the Hands On Jackson Advisory Committee, made up of multiple agencies: The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Department on Aging, Mountain Projects, Duke Energy, Harrah’s, and Lowe’s of Sylva.

“Duke Energy actually paid for the breakfast,” he said. “That’s what their sponsorship goes to help with.”

Mountain Projects volunteer Ruth McConnell organized the packing of breakfast, a bag meal this time around.

“We put together 200 bagged breakfasts,” she said. “A deacon from East Sylva Baptist Church brought 10 volunteers and along with Mountain Projects’ Neighbors in Need program, we filled 200 bags with food for the volunteers.”

Breakfast was a sausage biscuit, muffin, apple, trail mix, orange juice, coffee with cream and sugar.