The August flooding in Baton Rouge saw an influx of service emerge from every corner of the community, with high school students leading weekend teams to help gut teachers’ houses, families opening their doors to those who had been displaced, and donations pouring into shelters. But one group, at least, had always been there to help fix the city’s smaller problems, and they were ready for the big ones, too.
The Silver Hammers sprung up in Baton Rouge sometime around the late 1990s, says Bill Farmer, one of the organization’s volunteers. A casual coalition of mostly retired men from several local industries, the group came together a couple of decades ago after meeting as Habitat for Humanity volunteers. When they realized after retiring that they still had viable carpentry skills that could serve the community for the better, they rekindled their relationship with Habitat for Humanity and struck up a new one with Rebuilding Together Baton Rouge.
“Before that, we just called ourselves ‘the Wednesday crew,’ since those are the days we usually worked,” says Farmer. “Habitat started calling us the Silver Hammers, but no one seems to know exactly why.”
The group deals mostly with carpentry, says Farmer, and with Rebuilding Together spends most of its time helping the elderly and impoverished complete home repairs like replacing kitchen floors, building wheelchair ramps and resurfacing roofs. Without these services, many of these homeowners would be forced to leave, unable to afford the proper repairs themselves.
But once the flood struck in August, these minor repairs turned into much bigger jobs, many of which also relied on contracted work outside the Silver Hammers’ direct expertise, like plumbers and electricians.
“We’ve been so inundated with requests for our services since then. It’s been like a tsunami,” says Chris Andrews, executive director of Rebuilding Together Baton Rouge. “We have a very long waiting list, so we’re more dependent than ever on financial donations and volunteers like the Silver Hammers.”
“We’re really just a bunch of retired guys from all walks of life,” says Farmer. “Many of them are engineers, guys from Exxon, Albemarle, Dow Chemical, LSU—people who are good at using their hands and building things, figuring out problems.”
Most of their jobs can be completed in less than one day, says Andrews. But the community’s need forced the group to buckle down after the floodwaters finally receded, eventually helping to gut about 47 homes, with other repairs still in progress.
“We’ve just moved a family back into their house after they were flooded out,” Andrews says, “with more on the way. We’re more thankful than ever for our volunteers, so the more help we get, the better.”
How you can help:
To learn more about how to volunteer or donate to the Silver Hammers with Rebuilding Baton Rouge, visit rebuildingtogetherbatonrouge.org.