The purchase and eventual revitalization of the former Round Pond United Methodist Church, known locally as the “White Church,” by the Helping Hands of Round Pond marks the beginning of what co-president Sarah Stevenson Matel calls a renaissance in the coastal village.
“As far as Round Pond’s concerned, it’s an exciting time for the community. We have many newly retired folks who are really excited and interested in helping in any way they can. And then we have those of us who have been here longer that are kind of excited that it’s getting some fresh blood,” Matel said.
Helping Hands of Round Pond started as a women’s organization in October 1969 to “provide help and assistance to village citizens in need and provide support to community organizations as financial resources permit,” according to the group’s mission statement.
Matel stressed that the organization is no longer strictly a women’s organization and is open to all.
Helping Hands hasn’t been very active for the past 7 to 8 years, but was in the process of being revived when White Church members voted to close and de-consecrate the building as a Methodist church in June.
Matel described the White Church’s steeple as a beacon and an iconic symbol in Round Pond that should be preserved.
“No matter where you are, whether in the harbor or driving by, you see that steeple because it’s so prominent in the village,” she said.
Matel said during an interview on Tuesday, Aug. 31 that generous benefactors, who wish to remain anonymous, approached Helping Hands with approximately $30,000 in funds to purchase the White Church from the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church and transfer it to the community.
The building will be renamed the Round Pond Meeting House, serve as a home base for the Helping Hands organization, and be available for meetings and programs, non-denominational and across all faiths, co-president Nancy Evans said.
“A meeting house is a traditional New England institution that has both civic, as well as sacred meetings. It’s a building for the community and it’s a place where people can meet,” Evans said.
The group has plans for community suppers and possible movie nights once renovations are complete and the balcony is reopened.
Matel said that the 168-year-old church building was inspected and needs quite a bit of work—including a new heating and cooling system, electrical upgrades, a new roof, repairs to floors and joists, and eventual upgrades to water and plumbing.
“It’s really wonderful to be saving this historic building, too, which otherwise may have just gotten bought up and become a private residence or something else and no longer part of the community,” vice president Jody McKenzie Harris said.
After Helping Hands receives approval to become a 501(c)3) non-profit organization, the group will resume traditional fundraising activities, like bean suppers, bake sales, and potluck dinners, as well as jumpstart a separate capital campaign for the renovation of the White Church.
An inaugural non-denominational service was held on Sunday, Aug. 15, and attended by about 40 people, Harris said.
The group is hoping to have a Thanksgiving gathering and possibly a potluck supper this year, as well.
As part of the Round Pond renaissance effort, Helping Hands is also partnering with the non-denominational Brown Church and the Round Pond Schoolhouse Association, which is working to restore and maintain the historic Washington School, so as not to duplicate charitable efforts in the village.
“These are both organizations that provide economic benefit to the community and also make charitable donations,” Matel said.
Debbie Poland, who was previously involved with the original incarnation of Helping Hands, is serving as treasurer of the group and provides a link to the past with loads of institutional knowledge, Matel said.
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