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Basement Builders meet needs in Utah community

On a summer Saturday, sawhorses, tools and sawdust fill the makeshift workshop in the foyer of Shadow Mountain Church in West Jordan, Utah, as people of all ages work together on a church-wide “toolbox build day.” This well-attended activity is one of many sponsored by Basement Builders, an outreach conceived by Jay Cooper, a Salt Lake City graphic artist.

Shadow Mountain, the daughter church of South Mountain Community Church, was planted in November 2004 with 30 launch members that included Cooper. Pastor Cory Anderson describes the church as a very young church family in age and spirituality situated in a predominantly Mormon community. Soon after the church was planted, the congregation acquired a warehouse and with donations from South Mountain and the Pacific District Conference hired a contractor who began to transform the inside of the building into a church.

During this building process, Cooper noticed that men who didn’t regularly attend the church showed up to help work on finishing out the warehouse. Cooper says that he observed that most men related to each other better in conversation when the activity took center stage.

“It seems that if you tell a bunch of guys, ‘Let’s get together and fellowship’ that you’ve pretty much uninvited most men,” Cooper says. “We know God has given us the mission to reach men in our community, and we wanted to have innovative, effective ways to do that.”

Cooper, who comes from a “build it yourself” family, took the concept of men getting to know each other by working on a project together and gathered men to frame in a basement, something that is common in Utah homes. He says that the name “Basement Builders” was a natural.

Cooper says that projects are usually planned to take one day and designed to assist a homeowner in a project that they are beginning or have already underway. He says that Basement Builders require the homeowner to be actively involved in the project, at whatever skill level they have to offer. The homeowner also provides materials for the job.

However, Cooper goes on to say that workers often purchase material and conveniently “forget to bring a receipt" in many cases where the family is in need or involve single moms or orphans. “We are truly living out the biblical command to take care of widows and orphans,” says Cooper.

According to Cooper, projects are not limited to basements but have included additions to church classrooms, storage shed construction, a barn raising and work on the West Jordan Community Playground Project. The group is currently exploring affiliation with Habitat for Humanity.

Cooper makes it clear that Basement Builders is not a licensed contractor and that they are simply friends assisting friends in work that they are doing. He says that many of the people who participate are skilled people in a building-related trade but that an equal number have little or no experience.

When a volunteer joins Basement Builders, the group provides skills assessment to determine what the person already knows and how much they want to learn. Cooper says that people enjoy learning in a nonthreatening environment and that he has been impressed with how enthusiastic people are to learn the needed skills. For example, one father brought his young son who by the end of the day was already demonstrating the ability to anticipate things that the builders would need next.

Though the group averages about 20 men on each project, not every man participates on every project. Cooper reports that on many occasions, people that are not associated with the church appear on-site to help. In this way, friendships are naturally formed and men may feel more comfortable and welcome if and when they decide to join in worship and other church activities.

“Building something results in a product you can see and touch and in a feeling of accomplishment that you can take home at the end of the project day,” says Cooper. “It is a very satisfying feeling knowing you used skills you learned that day or already had to help someone along.

“It is not unusual to hear colorful language from time to time on the job or to have a couple of guys order a beer at a restaurant after a day on the site,” says Cooper. “These times bring a smile to my face because it means that we have guys here in the midst of their spiritual journey and we hope that they will soon cross over into a relationship with Christ.”

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