Good Samaritans : Mennonites Help Quake Victims Put Their Homes Back in Order

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kevin Enright, a former bit actor with a string of recent health troubles, is a proud man who says he doesn't want sympathy.

"I'm going blind, I've lost a leg, I'm diabetic, I'm asthmatic. That's all," he said Tuesday. "The earthquake kind of put the cover on the garbage can."

The January temblor knocked the chimney off the roof and damaged the ceiling, fireplace, walls and light fixtures inside his home, leaving Enright without the resources he needed to do the repairs, which ran to several thousand dollars.

But Enright said he gladly accepted help from a group of Mennonites who have worked free of charge to put his Granada Hills house back in order.

"The earthquake, in a way, has got me new friends, a new outlook on life. People aren't as bad as they are made out to be in the paper or on those talk shows," he said.

Four Mennonites, who came from central California, Kansas and Calgary, Canada, replaced the chimney and began putting up a chain-link fence.

The workers say they are in town for little reason other than to share God's love, and in most cases they are forgoing salaries from their full-time jobs to be here for three months.

More than two dozen people who belong to the Christian denomination have labored for months in the Southland, honoring their commitment to a small church known for its social activism and pacifism.

So far, they have completed work on about 80 private dwellings in Simi Valley, Inglewood and throughout the San Fernando Valley--including Canoga Park, Tarzana, Van Nuys, Sylmar, San Fernando and North Hollywood.

The Pennsylvania-based Mennonite Disaster Service, with an office in North Hollywood, is one of two religious groups of its kind to offer help in the Valley. The Holderman Senior Mennonites of Oregon have already come and gone.

The service helps cover travel costs and room and board for its volunteers from around the country and Canada.

"You don't really lose any money," Stan Boettger, a Canadian electrical engineer and college instructor, said as he worked on Enright's home. "What you are giving up is a salary of $4,500 a month.

"We think possibly a lot of people will get enough (government assistance) for materials, but for lots of people that's not enough to hire a contractor to do the work. We'll do the labor for free."

In return, he added, the good Samaritans get no more than "personal satisfaction of knowing you made a difference in somebody else's life who has gone through a disaster."

The project, organized by the Mennonite Disaster Service, may last for more than a year, said Roger Friesen, a retired plaster contractor who is a director for the group's North Hollywood office.

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The volunteers offer free labor for low-income disaster victims who are referred by the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But because some earthquake victims have not yet received checks from FEMA to purchase rebuilding materials, Friesen said, it's too early to tell who needs manual help.

Enright, Red Cross officials told Friesen, is one who needed it.

He got his start pouring Maxwell House coffee in a television commercial. Enright said he has appeared alongside comedians Red Skelton and Jack Benny, and John Wayne in several Westerns.

About six years ago, his health took a turn for the worse.

"This sounds very dramatic," he said, "but I lost a toe and that was the first time they found out I had diabetes.

"I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm just trying to get along."

Enright, who uses a shopping cart to maintain his balance as he walks, has nothing but praise for the Mennonites.

"God has sent them. Every once in awhile I think someone is watching over me. What they are doing for me gives me a belief that there are people still interested in you when you are down."

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