Green Bank residents Charles Sheets, fourth from left in front row, and Carolyn Sheets, far right, pose with members of their group at the build site in Fairbanks, Alaska. The group spent two weeks constructing houses for former addicts as part of the Fairbanks Rescue Mission project. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Sheets

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

This summer, while most people were retreating to the beach for a vacation, Charles and Carolyn Sheets, of Green Bank, traveled to Alaska for two weeks to lend a hand to the Fairbanks Rescue Mission building project.

The pair traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, with other individuals through United Methodist Volunteers and spent their time working at the rescue mission and building houses for rehabilitated addicts.

“There were ten of us from West Virginia,” Carolyn said. “The minister who led us was Rev. David Stilgenbauer. He’s the minister at Ronceverte Trinity United Methodist Church. His wife is the minister at Emmanuel Methodist Church in White Sulphur. Both of them were with us.”

While the Sheets knew the task at hand would call for hard work and long days, they were prepared to help in anyway they could.

“We’re no spring chickens,” Carolyn said, “but Charles could keep up with the younger ones. They had a hard time keeping up with him, I think. They had plenty for me to do, but sometimes they didn’t, so they sent me to the rescue mission in Fairbanks. I helped out there three days out of the two weeks.”

The volunteers bunked at the Fairbanks United Methodist Church and spent quality time together in the mornings and evenings after each day’s work. In that time, they managed to keep each other entertained and had plenty of stories to tell and lots of laughs.

“We stayed in the basement on air mattresses,” Carolyn said. “Charles’s air mattress had a hole in it and every morning he was down on the floor. You would hear this thing that sounded like a sweeper and you thought, ‘who’s cleaning up?’ It was him filling his air mattress every morning,” she said, laughing.

“We had some wonderful times together,” she said of the group. “They said this was the first group where everybody got along so well together. We were having fun.”

During the day, the group worked on housing units which were located on a former musher’s land. The main house and outbuildings remained on the property, and the volunteers were tasked with building 10 small units which will be used by individuals or couples as a stepping stone to a new life.

“Before, when they went through the program and recovered from being addicts, if they had a job, they just let them go and they never had contact with them after that, and they would go right back into the same position where they were before,” Carolyn explained. “So, their plan is to build these units, and they will charge them according to how much money they make, and they will have a counselor there to keep in contact with them and keep this group together.”

Several of the houses were already built when the Sheets’ group arrived, but there was still plenty for them to do. They constructed houses, worked on roofs and put up drywall in the interiors.

“They were built out of SIP panels and that stands for structural insulated panels,” Charles explained. “The form core is like six inches thick and they had a 5/8 inch OS board glued on both sides which gave them a lot of rigidity. They were four feet wide and you could buy any length. You can see how quickly they might go up by using this type of construction.”

After the walls were completed, they were covered with panels of Sitka spruce to complete the rustic cabin look.

The roofs were added next, and the men and women took turns putting down the metal roof panels.

“Charles was on the roof,” Carolyn said. “and the ladies were just marveling at him being on the roof. They had their harnesses on and ropes attached to them so they wouldn’t fall.”

The houses were all built on 12-inch concrete pillars off the ground due to the permafrost, as well as in case of flooding or earthquakes.

While they were working, the crew enjoyed the sights and sounds of Alaska and were intrigued by the differences between that state and the lower 48.

“All the time we were working, planes were going up and down,” Carolyn said. “Some of them would land on the water and some had wheels. Looking on down the lake, all these planes were ‘parked’ on the water. I just thought that was neat to be able to travel in an airplane.”

Airplanes are so common, there are signs warning about their presence. On the road to the construction site, Carolyn took a photo of a sign which read, “Caution – children, dog teams, aircraft use these roads.”

The trip wasn’t all just work. In fact, the volunteers were in Alaska during the time of year when there are only a few hours of darkness, so they were able to sightsee and explore.

They visited Denali National Park and saw Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley.

“It’s the highest peak in North America,” Carolyn said. “Seventeen of the twenty highest peaks are in Alaska. We saw all kinds of wildlife. We saw two little young foxes. We saw eight grizzly bears. They say one of their most aggressive animals is the moose. The reindeer are really just kind of tame. You see them everywhere.”

They also got to see part of the Alaska Pipeline, sled dog demonstrations, and even panned for gold at a tourist attraction.

As members of the Durbin Lions Club, Charles and Carolyn also made time to attend a Lions Club meeting while they were in Fairbanks. The town itself has 13 clubs and they visited with the Fairbanks Post Lions Club.

“They’re very active,” Carolyn said. “They had a whole list of activities. When they knew we raised leader dog puppies, they were so interested. We had a great time there.”

The Sheets enjoyed their time in Fairbanks so much that they plan to return to work on the project. They also hope to recruit other volunteers to go with them.

For more information on the Fairbanks Rescue Mission, visit www.fairbanksrescuemission.org