Building a Better Community: The Nehemiah Project

The Nehemiah Project began as most non-profits do, small and steady, helping seniors and those less fortunate with home repairs and yard projects. It was the vision and passion of Pastor Doug Thompson and his wife and co-pastor, Ingrid, who have lived in Peachtree City with their four children for 27 years.

They founded Harvest Rain Church International in Fairburn in 1998, and the Nehemiah Project grew as an extension of their church beginning in 2002 as a community outreach service giving young men jobs along the way.

“It came from a passion that my husband had growing up in Des Moines, Iowa,” she adds. “He was passionate about building and learning a trade after being a troubled child himself. He would always say, since we went to college together, that he wanted to be able to teach men a trade so that they can have a job and start their own businesses.”

The Nehemiah Project grew and took on more and varied projects, and by 2014, they were filling so many needs that it became its own non-profit organization.

“Our mission is to improve the quality of life for people in the areas of housing, economic development, health, and education,” says Executive Director Ingrid Thompson.

Much of the work they do involves plumbing and roof repair. They have done projects with the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, and have formed an energy efficiency program with Georgia Power. They do water conservation education and energy efficiency education programs regularly. “We teach people about healthy homes and lead safety, especially if there are children living in the home that are under six years old,” adds Ingrid. “We also do water audits.”

Last year, they were awarded a contract with the Dept. of Watershed Authority to do larger plumbing projects for low income seniors, in addition to simply fixing leaks and changing out commodes. They are now authorized to go into people’s homes to remove galvanized lead piping. “That was just huge,” says Ingrid. “I still can’t believe we’re doing that. We’re a very small team.”

“Everything we do is free of charge. If there’s no funding, I’ll go and find or raise funds to do whatever needs to be done to help people maintain a good quality of life,” she says.

Ingrid spends her time sourcing funding for as many jobs as she feels the Project can take on. They receive assistance from the Dept. of Watershed Authority’s Care and Conserve Program, and also from the City of Atlanta to do HVAC and plumbing, roofing, some carpentry, and electrical work. There is also some that comes from United Way and partnerships with organizations like Owens Corning, Wells Fargo, and GreyStone. Ingrid is on the board of Georgia Act and Thanks Mom and Dad, both support programs for seniors.

“We are very humbled by how we have been blessed to get to this point,” says Ingrid. “There’s still a lot of work to do and things we haven’t accomplished yet, but we’re very grateful for being able to service our community the way we have been in such a short period of time with Nehemiah.”

She focuses heavily on making sure that they are good stewards of what they have been given and that they have the right people in place.“We have several contractors who work with us and three full-time staff, but it’s overwhelming.”

“Sometimes it’s just asking people for their time and expertise, like when a lady’s basement is flooded and she just can’t live like that. We have been successful in doing that as well,” says Ingrid. “Volunteers are key for us, so when we don’t have the money, the expertise can come from volunteers.”

In the beginning, most of the work was donated by members of the church and their contacts who knew plumbers and carpenters. As the funding increased, the Project was able to pay for some of the bigger jobs to be completed as part of their requirements for funding from certain organizations, but volunteers are still the backbone of what gets done. “Over time, we just built a network,” she adds.

There have been times when there was simply not enough funding or manpower to help all those who needed it. But Ingrid will reach deep into her network to come up with a solution, asking her church, her friends and family, starting fundraisers, particularly if it’s a dire situation. And there have been some. “We do our best to meet everybody’s needs, especially during this pandemic. Sometimes we can’t, but we try hard.”

They have been completing seven to 10 projects per month since April, major repairs that cost anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000. In some of the more severe cases, there were caved in roofs and damaged floors or raw sewage filling people’s basements. “There were things that people really needed to have done to be safe in their homes. Those are the kind of projects that we are really trying to give priority to.”

In addition to home repairs, the Nehemiah Project works with people who need mortgage and rental assistance and is working to provide affordable and sustainable housing for those with low incomes through its Neighborhood Revitalization Project.

And its Healthy Communities initiative strives to teach people about healthy home environments and promoting healthy lifestyles by providing health resources and education.

According to the Nehemiah Project website, “The purpose of the program is to improve the community’s economic capacity by utilizing strategies that increase employment and income and provide access to a highly trained local workforce for area businesses. Our Financial Literacy workshops strive to build financial awareness, provide education for establishing financial goals, and empower the individual to adopt new strategies to achieve those goals.”

The Nehemiah Project hosts many workshops to help those with income disparity learn to live fuller and healthier lives, and Ingrid is sure that they can make a difference.

Visit nehemiahprojectcdc.org to learn more about the impact they are having on the community and its members, and to learn how you can help by donating or providing time or services to the Project.

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