P52, a local army of volunteers organized by Covenant College professor Chris Robinson, was out in force on Aug. 27.

“We had around 280 people working on eight projects,” says Robinson. “Most of the volunteers this time were Covenant freshmen and professors.”

P52 — also known as Project 52 — is a nonprofit organization that aims to do 52 community service projects a year, though they often exceed that goal.

Their most recent projects included the cleanup of three adjacent properties on Wilson Road, one on Ridgeland Road and one on Wilberger Street, all in Rossville, and one on Ponderosa Drive in Chickamauga.

“The two big projects were Wilson Road and Ponderosa Drive,” says Robinson. “We had 70 to 80 volunteers and a dumpster at each of those sites. Having that many people working is like having a bulldozer. You can knock out a full day’s worth of work in a couple of hours.”

Robinson says P52 has worked at the Ponderosa Drive site six times now. There was a fire at the site that has caused ongoing issues for the owners and P52 returns periodically to help them resolve their cleanup problems.

Robinson says there were 20-25 volunteers at each of the other two sites, as well as volunteers working on four projects in Hamilton County in Tennessee.

P52 works with codes enforcement in Walker County to identify properties that are at risk of being cited for excess trash, debris or overgrowth. Robinson says Walker County codes enforcer David Brown has been a pleasure to work with and that Commissioner Shannon Whitfield has been very supportive of P52’s work.

Once a property is identified, Brown talks with Robinson to see if P52 can help the owners or tenants. A meeting is set up with the person responsible for the property and a date is set for cleanup.

Robinson says his volunteers always begin and end a project with prayer. The owner or tenant is invited to join the volunteers as they work but is not required to. “A lot of times, the responsible person is disabled or elderly,” says Robinson, “but we almost always establish a relationship with them. We’re often able to help them with other needs because of getting to know them. And many times they’re happy to have us pray with them and help them get connected to a church or group that will support them spiritually.”

P52 is seven years old now. The group, says Robinson, not only does one-time projects, it now has over a dozen regular “clients.”

“We have widows and disabled people we cut grass for and check on,” says Robinson. “There’s one gentleman in Dade County who’s in his 90s and heats with wood. We try to keep him in firewood and we cut his lawn.”

One of P52’a next projects will be dealing with a large tree in Rossville that fell across a street and damaged a fence. Robinson says the city removed the part that was on the road, but there’s still a lot to be done. “We’ll bring in chainsaws and a log-splitter and get it cleared up and we’ll have some wood for our Dade client and maybe others who need it. The city has agreed to let us dispose of the branches and brush at a site they have.”

P52 has finished 47 projects thus far this year. They have more scheduled and Robinson says after November, they’ll be raking a lot of leaves for people.

Networking and helping other nonprofits is something P52 is increasingly doing, says Robinson, from small ways to larger ones. On the recent Wilson Road project, the Wilson Road Neighborhood Group brought water and snacks for the P52 volunteers and joined in on the work.

The Hamilton County projects of Aug. 27 were all connected to other nonprofits, says Robinson. “LifeSpring Community Health Services was planning their annual parking lot breakfast and needed help removing overgrowth, so we went there to do that.”

P52 did yard work for Widow’s Harvest, cleaned out a large fish tank and built garden boxes for East Lake Academy and cleaned out the Chattanooga Community Kitchen’s walk-in freezer.

“We don’t have a lot of overhead,” says Robinson. “We’ve collected a lot of the equipment we need over the years — mowers, weed eaters, rakes, saws. Our biggest expense is renting dumpsters — that runs into the thousands each year.”

P52 even has its own collection of work gloves. Robinson washed 230 pair after P52’s most recent work day.

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.

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