WALKER TOWNSHIP — An army of volunteers started work Monday on home renovations left unfinished last month when the owner, and father of two young children, died unexpectedly while working on the project.
Donald Robson, 40, collapsed and died July 9 while removing the roof of his Zion-area home. He was building an expansion to support his growing family — Robson’s wife is soon expecting the couple’s third child.
In the days after his death, friends, neighbors and several local churches came together with a plan to finish Robson’s work.
That plan sprang into action Monday, as more than 30 volunteers pitched in to build a second-floor addition to the home.
“I’m amazed at how many people just came out of the woodwork,” said Jeff Neff, missions coordinator at Faith United Methodist Church in Bellefonte, which organized the work.
A family member who was assisting the volunteers Monday afternoon called the community’s support “remarkable.”
The man, who asked not to be identified out of respect for the family’s privacy, said, “We don’t feel we’re deserving of all of this.”
Robson was working on the roof with his 12-year-old son in July when he collapsed. He was later pronounced dead at Mount Nittany Medical Center, according to the family member.
Even before the family members could return from the hospital, the generosity of their neighbors and friends was on display. A group took it upon themselves to put the family’s dismantled roof back together.
“By the time we got back, they were putting the last shingles on,” the family member said.
Later, the Faith United Methodist Church’s mission group became involved, organizing workers to complete the renovations.
“Some of these people just came to us, rather than us having to come to them” Neff said Monday afternoon.
For Neff, planning home construction is nothing new. His group has participated in mission trips across the country, most recently building two homes for victims of tornadoes in Alabama.
While the group also does smaller projects around Centre County, like building handicap accessible ramps, this is the first large-scale construction project it has undertaken locally.
“One man in our church heard about Donnie dying, and he said, ‘I had a dream and I need to do something,’ ” Neff said.
“He came to us, and we decided we would support the project.”
Neff and others from various churches across the area, many who had never met the couple, quickly agreed to volunteer their time.
Janie Mattern secured food — donated from local business — to help feed the large group of volunteers.
Mattern said she was struck by strangers’ willingness to lend a hand. One woman noticed the crowd while driving by, turned around and came back with leftovers from a family party on Sunday.
“It’s those kind of things that are just remarkable,” Mattern said. “This is just what we should do.”
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter