Volunteer Time and Skills Save a Community Landmark

Volunteer Time and Skills Save a Community Landmark

December 5, 2023

FALL MAGAZINE STORY - Read about the volunteer efforts of union carpenters in Pewaukee, WI. To read the full magazine, click HERE.

"We are rich in volunteers and poor in cash," stated Pastor Florin, a balance that has provided advantageous to the church's renovation.

Union carpenters are not strangers to volunteering. Whether it is putting in a wheelchair ramp for a neighbor or helping a local nonprofit with renovations, members collectively spend thousands of hours helping communities they work and live in every year. The commitment to these projects can range from several hours to several years. For example, in Pewaukee, WI, members have amassed nearly 2000 volunteer hours at Agape Community Church, a nondenominational congregation founded by Pastor Florin Docea.

Built in 1858 as St. Mary’s Church, this building has been a part of the Pewaukee Village landscape for over a century. The church was initially built as a wooden structure with stone added ten years later. Then, St. Mary’s expanded in 1888 by adding a bell tower and again in 1937 with an extension to both the basement and main floor.

While the building has looked largely the same from the outside, the inside was crumbling. Suffering years of deterioration with minimal updates since 1996, almost every pipe in the church was damaged from lack of winterization. Water damage had also produced mold and the floors were less than level. Labeled a tear down, the company that owned the building sold it in 1996 to luxury apartment developers who had big plans for the land which was coincidently located across the street from a beautiful lake.

However, community members were opposed to the demolition of the church and were steadfast in their belief that it should remain a part of their neighborhood. After several city meetings and a close call with a bulldozer, the community was successful in halting the building’s destruction. As Pastor Florin recalls, “The bulldozer was right there. It was ready to knock everything down, but a lawsuit was taped to its front doors just in time to save it.”

Pastor Florin, who had rented St. Mary’s from 2016-2019 for ministry purposes but had subsequently left, was approached by a city administrator about purchasing the building. He and his family’s connection to the church was well established, and his response was, “If God opens doors, we will walk through them.” Pastor Florin walked through those doors when he submitted a proposal for purchase and took possession of the church building in June 2021. Agape Community Church had a home but was not yet ready to open its doors.

With a big job ahead, Pastor Florin had a community of volunteers behind him. He also had a series of what he calls “coincidences,” which helped Agape welcome in members after nine and a half short months rather than the estimated four-year restoration period.
Pastor Florin found these “coincidences” everywhere, from the hardware store where he just happened to meet a Drylock representative that donated thousands of dollars of materials to help seal the walls, to the initial mold mitigation that was necessary to start the renovation.

“I searched online for mold mitigation and called a local company. The person who answered the phone was a young man I had met before. He recognized my voice, and I realized he was the same man I had stopped to help when he was walking through a blizzard with nothing on but shorts and a t-shirt,” recalls Pastor Florin. After a call to his boss, the mold mitigation work was arranged as a donation, which included the necessary tools, ladders and dumpsters.

Once the mitigation was complete, the need for framing, flooring and other carpentry work became a priority. Another online search led Pastor Florin Docea to Pewaukee’s Carpenters Training Institute (CTI), which ultimately connected him with CTI Instructor Tony Bachtell and apprentices. Bachtell, who has volunteered numerous hours of his own personal time to Agape’s renovation, and other union carpenters have helped level the basement and stage area floor, installed ramps from the building addition into the main church, framed doorways and windows, carpeted the main area, and restored and reinstalled original 1937 hard wood flooring. Carpenters have amassed substantial amounts of volunteer hours to restore Agape to its prominent place in the community.

The stage floor leveling was one of the more challenging projects. “After ripping out the old and reconstructing with fewer risers, we found that while the majority of the stage was made of concrete, the middle was just wood joists – leaving a hole that needed to be filled and leveled,” recalled Bachtell. “We came in, put underlayment down, sealed up everything we could before pouring bags and bags of self-leveling concrete. With a week in between each pour, we raised the stage up about 2.5 inches.”

From the beginning, it has been essential to Pastor Florin to not throw away anything that could be repurposed. As volunteers worked to remove the old materials, what could be salvaged was set aside. From the pew wood to the bell tower ladder, pieces of the original building can be seen throughout the renovation in door frames, window trim and even the shiplap on the walls of the main floor bathrooms.

“I can now bring people here and tell them the story of how this wood was saved from burning. It was reclaimed, redeemed and put in a place of honor. It’s just like a human being who goes down the wrong path. You can come here to be redeemed and put in a place of honor,” said Pastor Florin. “It can really make people think.”

With successful fundraising, hundreds of volunteers and additional donated material, Agape is open and operating. Future plans include a children’s area, finishing the basement bathrooms and the fellowship hall that will be used by both the church and the community. “We are rich in volunteers and poor in cash,” stated Pastor Florin, a balance that has proved advantageous to the church’s renovation.

“There are individuals I’ve never met who show up and say, put me to work,” said Pastor Florin. “It is amazing to see how people are coming out of the community to help. There’s no other way we would be able to do what we have accomplished.”

For more photos of Agape’s restoration, visit its Facebook using the QR code provided or visit their website at www.agapechurchwi.com