Church, parish partnership improves 22 Covington homes

Carrie Cyprian is used to paying her way in life. She paid three times to have a ramp built on her Covington home where she cares for her older twin brothers, her former husband and a great-grandson — most of whom use wheelchairs, walkers or both.

She’s named for her aunt Carrie, “the New Orleans praline lady,” who she remembers sold the sweets on Canal and Rampart streets. Cyprian, 82, learned to make the pralines and later cakes and pies that she sold from the store on the front of her property where the sign “The JigWhop” still hangs. But recently, she was serving her homemade coconut and strawberry cakes to a special group that spent several days building two wheelchair ramps and and a new porch for her home.

“I paid three times. This time it’s being done right, for free,” she said in amazement. The repairs were made as part of a church and community partnership program that brought more than 250 volunteers called World Changers to Covington.

Housed at First Baptist Church Covington, they sent out 18 teams to help low-income homeowners make needed improvements with a Community Development Block Grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to St. Tammany Parish.

“It’s a beautiful thing to witness at this age that they’d come out and do this. I’m used to paying for everything,” she said.

Someone told Cyprian about the program and brought her a card. She called the number and her daughter helped her fill out the forms. “Different ones came around and measured and told me they needed the yard,” for a dumpster and supplies. “I told them ‘the yard is yours.’ ”

Sara Waldorff from First Baptist Church in Altha, Fla., traveled with the young World Changers. She had taken a photograph of the original ramps that had been deemed unsafe, and the small porch inadequate to move people in and out safely. They were torn off and put in the dumpster to make way for the improvements.

She said, “It’s a blessing to us to be with Miss Carrie, to gather and pray and share her Southern hospitality.” Each day she came out to sit and watch the work progress and visit with the young people.

“I think this is going to be my favorite place to sit,” Cyprian said of the new porch. “I thank God for opening up his blessing for me.”

Abe Haley, an associate pastor at First Baptist, served as liaison with the parish and said World Changers is part of the Lifeway Christian Resources, a Southern Baptist Convention ministry. North Shore Baptist Association helped provide meals and shower trailers for the group.

Haley said homes were painted, handicapped ramps built, and new windows and doors installed at 22 locations throughout Covington. In all, they used about $50,000 in materials provided by the grant, but all the labor was volunteer. The parish targeted the area for revitalization and after canvassing the neighborhood, he said they fielded about 50 applications. It was narrowed to the 22 sites.

Ethan Cranford, a high school freshman from McClendon Baptist Church in West Monroe, La., used a skill saw to cut the porch rails. This is Cranford’s second trip with World Changers. He said, “I wanted to come out and be able to share Jesus and serve people also.”

“It’s a joy, because I’ve worked with kids in church. It makes me feel young again,” Cyprian said, watching the activity.

Kelsy Betts, 14, of Adel, Ga., said she had experience with a power drill like the one she used to screw the poles onto the rails of Cyprian’s porch.

“Me and my brother build tree houses, we have about 50,” she said. Her brother Cody had been a World Changer last year and was coming this year, so she wanted to come too. Cody was at Irene Richardson’s home a few miles away painting the wheelchair ramp to her home. Inside, Richardson’s sister Louis said the house was noticeably cooler since the World Changers replaced the windows a few days before.

Kaite Beasley with the World Changers Louisiana team said, “It’s a lot of scraping and painting and making things new.” Surveying the hum of activity, she said, “Imagine this times 22.”

Adam Martin of Mandeville was construction coordinator with the project and made sure crews were supplied, work completed on schedule and up to code. He volunteered as part of the Faith Division of Kent Design and Build that constructs churches.

“We have our staff on the ground as supervisors” and World Changers had crew leaders within their own ranks. “It’s important to give back to this community where we thrive. It’s a perfect fit.”