Current News

MDS in the city: “This is what we do”

October 4, 2021

When an electrical fire in August all but destroyed LaTanya Wade’s house on the outskirts of Philadelphia, she wasn’t sure where to turn. She had no fire insurance, and the damage meant the house had to be entirely gutted and rebuilt.

A city agency connected her with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers from eastern Pennsylvania, who have been busy reconstructing the home while Wade, her daughter, and her three grandchildren, ages 3, 10, and 12, live with her sister.

“The volunteers are wonderful, and I thank them wholeheartedly,” said Wade, who added that her grandkids are very excited that their newly reconstructed home will be finished in the next couple of months.

“They can’t wait!” she said.

Jay Johnson, who is overseeing the project for MDS, said the job involves gutting the house, then reframing it, installing a new roof, and replacing electrical and plumbing. The volunteers, all from the eastern Pennsylvania area, are also changing the interior to an open floor plan more suited to the family.

Volunteers are also installing new windows and a new HVAC system, which means the home will be more energy-efficient. “It will be a more comfortable place to live, and more economical,” said Johnson.

For Johnson and the other volunteers, this project may not be “the normal” MDS work, but he said, “this is what we do. It wasn’t a natural disaster. It was a person in need with nowhere else to go.”

This is the second city MDS project Johnson has headed up, the first being repairs for a Spanish-speaking church in South Philadelphia.

“It seems like MDS is coming into the city more,” said Johnson. “Now we’re doing more community projects that aren’t necessarily caused by natural disasters but by the needs within those neighborhoods.”

While Johnson knows well that MDS volunteers often travel from far away to work on job sites, he said working on a home an hour’s drive away gives him a positive feeling, too.

“We are starting to work right in our own neighborhoods,” he said. “Working in the city is something that’s new. I’m excited to see it happen.”