Local nonprofit seeks to ‘ReBUILD’ community

On a Tuesday night outside an old house on Ninth Avenue, women sat on the porch making crafts, bibles placed around a folding table. Men carried around wooden boards, working steadily on the house. Kids climbed the walls of the porch, and one rode his tricycle on the sidewalk. From the outside, it is an odd site, an old and rundown building teeming with life and noise. But the building has found new purpose. This is ReBUILD.

ReBUILD Huntington is a local nonprofit, taking its name from the Bible scripture Nehemiah 2:18, which states, “They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work.” Renee Law, the director of ReBUILD, has been an active member in the church for years, but it wasn’t until almost five years ago that she felt her calling was to love people outside the walls of church.

“I got sick almost five years ago and almost died and God left me here,” Law said, “and I was like, ‘Okay, He left me here for a reason. I need to find that purpose and it’s not always inside the walls of a church building.’”

She then got involved with the ministry Backpacks and Brown Bags, an outreach ministry out of Lewis Memorial Baptist Church that focuses on school-aged children and prostitutes in Huntington. It was through this ministry that she understood the need the city had.

“People sleep on the streets,” Law said. “Like, people sleep on the streets in the town that I live in. I had no idea.”

Law then got involved with people from Project Hope, and she and her husband, Paul, began inviting people into their home for dinners and bible studies. But without a central location, it was difficult to have consistent meetings, so people began to pray.

“We started praying and this was the first set of buildings that we prayed over,” Law recalled. “And we stood in a circle out in front on the sidewalk because we just felt like the Holy Spirit for some reason was drawing us back here.”

One Friday, Law went with a friend to look for an apartment, and mentioned to the property manager that she was also looking for a space. He informed her of an apartment she could rent, but also said he had another place.

“I’ve got another place for you to look at,” Law remembers the property manager saying. “It’s over on Ninth Avenue.”

It was the same building Law and others had prayed for and, that Friday night, she and her board of directors decided to go for it. On Monday, the property manager called and donated that building and three others on the block. They began having cookouts at the property, and three years later, there are things happening almost every day, including work for Made New, an Etsy company that sells crafts made by ReBUILD women.

“We’re here to enable and just be a family and come alongside them and encourage them,” said Kayla Heffner, the founder of Made New.

Braiden Sheldon, a frequent ReBUILD visitor, said it was Heffner’s idea that made her first come by ReBUILD.

“I was looking for a ministry to serve at and I met Kayla at Joanne Fabrics,” Sheldon said, “and she was telling me what Made New was and what they do and just loving on women, and just like creating a space to belong and connect and to be loved and that’s just what I fell in with.”

Law envisions that the other properties may one day be retail space that could give people a chance to work, but emphasized the fact that this ministry is not about building space, but about loving people.

“The buildings are just a way to reach the people,” Law explained, “so we can show that old, abandoned, dilapidated buildings that are in horrible shape can be rebuilt just like a terrible, horrible life can be rebuilt as well.”

Franklin Norton can be contacted at [email protected]