Shelby County Community Outreach provides help and hope

SHELBY COUNTY — A simple home repair project decades ago sparked an idea to help people throughout Shelby County.
“I was at my parents’ house helping them do some odd jobs,” said Shelby County Community Outreach Founder and Executive Director Ron French.
French was on the roof, repairing shingles, when  he said, “I felt like the Lord spoke to me, ‘You know there’s other people in your area who need help like this, too.’”
Realizing the need for a voluntary home repair service for those who couldn’t afford to hire someone to do small repair jobs, or have the time, tools, or means to do the job themselves, French began to form a plan, which he shared with acquaintances at church.
French was put in contact with Dave Pedersen, who was active in the Habitat for Humanity program. He also was introduced Barbara and Gary Wirtjes, who had been helping a woman and her children move into a mobile home. “She was in a tough time and getting a divorce, so they were mentoring her.”
In the summer of 2003, the group began to “kick around ideas,” French said, and discussing the financial aspects of starting the voluntary service with financial advisor Mike Cain.
A year later, Shelby County Community Outreach (SCCO) was formed. French and  his wife, Jenny, along with Mike and Marcy Cain, Dave and Pat Pedersen, and Gary and Barb Wirtjes were founding board members.
“We had big plans,” French said. “Little did we know it would take years.”
The group began a housing assistance program with a four-step program, initially providing short-term housing, then intermediate housing, then long-term housing in a mobile home or apartment, and finally, permanent housing. “That was a bit more than what we could handle,” French said. “Unfortunately, we learned we can’t do everything for everybody.”
The organization quickly focused on four areas. The first was borne from French’s original idea of providing home repair solutions for the elderly, disabled, and low income families throughout Shelby County. French said they specialize in jobs too small to be considered by contractors.
During the early years, SCCO began collecting gently-used furniture. In 2011, they purchased a vacant building from the Harlan American Legion, and Hero’s Attic opened to the public. The building, located at 1105 8th St. in Harlan, offers pre-owned furnishings and appliances at affordable prices with a sliding-scale discount. Funds obtained through Hero’s Attic supports the operating needs of SCCO.
When projects are beyond the scope of SCCO Home Repair, French said they try to work with the homeowner to find other options, including volunteer organizations. The larger, community-service based projects include yardwork, renovations, and painting projects.
“We work on bridging the gap to help find resources,” French said.
SCCO has partnered with the Salvation Army to bring several projects and services to Shelby County, including the Backpack Ministry, winter apparel for kids, fans for the elderly, holiday meals, diapers and lice kits, nutritious snacks for school kids, and contributions to the area food pantry. Funding for these projects comes from the local Bell Ringing Campaign each holiday season, with 90% of funds staying in Shelby County.
Even after 20 years, French still has big plans. “My passion throughout the years has been to do these small repairs for the elderly, disabled, or low income people around the county. I would like to have several home repair specialists in each town in the county to offer assistance.” French said those people would be responsible for the service calls in their area. “That’s been a long-time vision of ours.”
He said, “Hero’s Attic is busting at the seams. We would love to have a bigger building so we could display and show off our products.” Another goal is to have a “makers area”, where people could come in and work on furniture and be more “hands on” in the process.
French said the organization is in need of younger volunteers. “A lot of staff and board members are over 60. We would like to get the younger generation to latch on to what we are doing here.”
French said he feels the “barn building” mentality of helping when a neighbor needs a hand has been lost. “We would like to reintroduce the concept of neighboring so people are caring for each other and helping each other out.”
 Like most non-profits, funding and personnel are often an issue. “You can’t have a staff without having money to pay them,” French said. “That has hindered a lot of these things, we don’t have the finances to do it.”
The organization is funded strictly by donations. “People think since we are called Shelby County Community Outreach, we are funded by the county,” French said. “But that’s not true.” The group is an independent, non-profit, faith-based organization. “We work with a lot of churches, but are not represented by one particular church.”
There are grant opportunities, but French said those are for specific projects, not for overhead. “You can’t get a grant to pay salary with. You can’t live by grants.”
Two years ago, the organization started a fundraising campaign called “Five to Thrive”. “It sounds crazy, but if every person in Shelby County gave $5 a month to SCCO, we would have ample money to work with to do the things we need to.”
French said he has done the math, and realizes it’s a hard concept to grasp. “People spend $5 a day at the coffee shop or gas station. You give us $5 a month, and look how far it will go.”
“We would like to have more people sign up for it. You’re probably not even going to miss it,” French said. “And we would be able to do a lot.”
After two decades of serving Shelby County, French said he is proud of the work they have done. “Just the  fact we’re still alive and kicking and growing, is a testament to the people involved — the board members, the staff, the people along the way. If not for the commitment of people who see the need for the products and services we provide, we wouldn’t be around still.”
In addition to French, staff members include Linda Nelson, Hero’s Attic Manager; Marian Bretey, office manager; and Suzanne Rasmussen, financial secretary.
Board members include Eric Chipman, Vice President, Suzanne Rasmussen, Secretary/Treasurer,   Mike Poggensee, President, Joyce Poggensee,   Marian Bretey, and Clayton Bretey.



Harlan Newspapers

1114 7th Street
P.O. Box 721
Harlan, IA 51537-0721

(800) 909-6397

Comment Here