Giving Shelter

Dec 16, 2012

With the Wabash County animal shelter beyond repair,
Kiwanians rally to build a new one.

Dog looking Up

It’s the end of a long recession in a town which owes its wealth to an oil-boom 30 years ago. Mt. Carmel, Illinois, used to be the industry center, but now finds itself the bedroom community to other blooming towns. The State of Illinois owes the county $150,000, and even with the return of high oil prices, the town hasn’t seen much of the profits.

Yet Mt. Carmel is not a town that has given up. There are no haunting storefronts or untended hedges on Main Street.  A new orthopedic surgeon recently opened his practice, and medical students who return to town still receive tuition reimbursement. On the north edge of town, past oil rigs that still rhythmically rise and fall, stands a new $106,000 animal shelter.

A dilapidated, ill-equipped building with a rotting ceiling, rusting cages and a pervasive musty smell, the old shelter is scarcely habitable. In late 2008 the Shelter Buddies, a group of animal shelter volunteers, approached the local Kiwanis club with a list of improvements for their facility.

Aiming high

Kiwanis heard the proposals, saw the old shelter and thought bigger.

“It was a deplorable building that needed to be torn down; it wasn’t worth any money at all,” says Kiwanian Tim Raibley. “We needed to start fresh.”

An architect, Raibley sketched the design. As the vision took shape in numbers and lines, the square footage and budget doubled. Material needs were tallied: $798 for sand and gravel, $505 for sinks, $936 in gutters, and many thousands in construction materials.  

The members compiled a list of the needed supplies and pitched the plan to town businesses over a donated dinner. Over 80 people attended. “We invited every contractor and anybody that owned a hammer,” jokes Raibley.

No one hesitated; when the last plate was cleared, close to $50,000 was promisehalf the project costand all the labor and expertise volunteered.

Becoming reality

It was Saturday morning in September 2009, five months after the dinner, and nearly 30 volunteers crowded the finished concrete. Nearby, the wafting scent of grilled hamburgers attested to the beginnings of a grill-out. The dream began to become a reality. 

The old-fashioned barn-raising erected the complete skeleton of the 2,336 square foot building. Experienced builders delegated tasks and amateurs began crash-courses in carpentry.

“A lot of the guys didn’t have a clue what to do, but someone would jump in and show them how,” says current President Dan Schonert. “Now they can improve their own houses.”

The club began holding work nights instead of meetings: Tuesdays, Thursdays and long Saturdays throughout the winter. 

“I thought we’d never get it done,” says Raibley. “The day the man-lift left the building was a big day for me.  I knew we were going to finish.”

Despite all late nights and early morning, Tony Bowles and Dave Guinnip hardly missed a work session. They clocked a combined 156 work hours managing the construction. Nobody mentioned the project without their names.

No corners were cut. Jeff Spruell, who owns a heating and cooling company, donated and installed the ductwork, designing the building to use geothermal heat to be energy efficient. 

“It’s one of the most energy efficient buildings in the county,” says county commissioner Charles Sanders.

Everyone’s shelter

Kiwanis lead the project, and the town embraced it. High school art students painted a mural in the cat room. The nearby Toyota plant, on a recessional shutdown, paid employees to lay the foundation. In April 2010, the Daily Republican Register produced an entire newspaper section chronicling the project and advertising the shelter’s community open house.

But the story of Mt. Carmel does not end with the animal shelter. 

“I think for a while the club was content to sit back and write a check,” reflects Schonert, “but now we like to be doing something.” A picnic shelter is being raised in a neglected park. Strewn about Schonert’s insurance office is equipment for the 6th annual Motorcross competition. 

“I think it’s contagious,” adds Raibley.

“We found we liked building things,” says Tim Phillips. “I built a deck; I would have never tried that before.”

“Kiwanis came in and saved the day. When they built the animal shelter, they got the ball rolling,” says Sanders.

Today, modern and energy efficient, the new shelter operates at capacity. The club donated the shelter to the county at no cost, and in its first year, it rescued 354 dogs and 244 cats, most sent for adoption to agencies in larger cities. The older shelter still stands in its shadow, a testament to the difference that can be made by a few.

Story by Robin Bortner

Stories produced by KIWANIS Magazine

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