San Damiano Center for Sustainability: Framing in progress, Part III

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Framing in Progress, Part III

by Eric Fitts, Director

A shortened ordinary week meant only three days on site, but we had the loft floor decking complete by Tuesday at lunch, north wall blocking finished by the end of the day, first floor north wall sheathing complete on Wednesday, and first floor south and west wall sheathing complete on Thursday, so we made the most of the little time we had and were rewarded with progress that was visually apparent.

This week’s crew included Kevin Truong, Jake Harper, Grace Pallissard, Claire Sofronas, and newest Caretaker Gemma Stanton, with an afternoon cameo from Lindsey Meyer on her last week here.

In the next couple weeks, we’ll have groups from Nashville, Chicago, Towson, Jersey City, and Indiana who will be helping sheath the east wall, frame out the loft stairs, frame the north and south gable walls, and begin on posts for the livestock shed as well as rafter posts and headers, followed by roof rafters.

loft floor decking is complete after less than two days of work!
a new Summer Servant is on the scene
North wall sheathing begins on June 26th
The foreman in action
North wall sheathing completed in one day!
With some extra help from Lindsey, who also helped set anchor bolts in the foundation a few weeks back.
The interior begins to take shape.
South and west wall sheathing completed on June 27th.
Picnic shelter/educational area/garden produce processing station begins to take shape.
And the east wall begins…
Grace has been a workhorse on the project–we’ll miss you!

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

San Damiano Center for Sustainability: Framing in progress, Part II

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Framing in Progress, Part II

by Eric Fitts, Director

When we last left off, we were in the midst of installing headers and just beginning to get a few joists in. Up until this point, primarily Caretakers and Summer Servants had worked on site, as the detail work and post placement did not lend itself well to large groups. Last Friday, Kevin asked when we were going to get a crew of participants for a group week. I had not really given that enough thought until that moment, especially since our home repair waiting list is so long that I wanted most of our energy focused outward. Then Will and I talked it over and decided to break the group into 6 crews instead of 5, so everyone could be happy. A sixth work crew can be difficult to manage the transportation, but the Farm Crew walks 25 yards to work each morning, so that made it even easier.

During this group week, we installed the remaining loft floor headers, hoisted all the joists into place, nailed in most of the joists, completed the blocking on the rim joists, and laid 4/5 of the 3/4″ Advantech for the loft floor decking–quick and sure progress!

One evening, as I was installing a few more blocks before supper, I came to my last block and climbed a ladder that had been off to the side most of the day. On the top rung, there sat a toad or frog of some sort, blue and green. He or she did not flinch as I air-nailed that last block, allowed Clare to come close to say hi, and allowed me to snap the photo below. We figure it was St. Francis or St. Clare smiling on our project 😉

Many thanks to everyone who has donated time, talent, and treasure to bring us this far!

Next up…complete the loft floor and begin sheathing the first floor walls.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

San Damiano Center for Sustainability: Framing in progress, Part I

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Framing in Progress, Part I

by Eric Fitts, Director

An update is overdue!

The Shelter-Kit framing kit arrived on a 54-foot truck and trailer with 33,000 lbs of materials. Since the truck could not get up our 1/2-mile driveway, it took all afternoon and the next morning to get the materials up the driveway and positioned near the site (thanks to Mark Solak, with help from Will, Grace, and Joey, fresh from the eastbound train).

The anchor bolts were being set as the materials arrived and framing was able to begin the next week. We are about 10 days in now and have framed out all four exterior walls, set the rim joists, set all interior posts and all four posts for the open-air educational area (left, west side of site), set a couple of floor headers for the left, and set a few floor joists in place for the loft.

Almost everyone has helped to at least raise a wall section and we have had a dedicated crew each week. So far, Cece, Lindsey, Kat, Gabby, Joey, Grace, Kevin, Leah, and others I am forgetting at this late hour have helped for at least one full day, if not much longer. Kevin Truong is our ETHOS intern from the University of Dayton Engineering Department’s service program, so he will see a huge chunk of the project over the course of a full summer, more on his story later.

Thanks for all the support. If you know anyone interested in helping this project come to fruition or who wants to come and help for a week, then send them our way! Donations can be made at

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

Property Purchase Appeal

Property Purchase:
Once-in-a-lifetime Opportunity

by Eric Fitts, Director

Great news! We have signed a sales agreement with the Diocese to purchase the 48-acre Bethlehem Farm property that we have been leasing! The Diocese accepted our offer of $36,000 and it is time for us to formally invite you to contribute to this essential investment. Sponsor a piece of the property by contributing online now.

It is hard to imagine a more important effort to insure the future of Bethlehem Farm. Our commitment to our Catholic identity and relationship with the Diocese is as strong as ever. When our bishop resigned last year, the Diocese gave us the opportunity to make an offer on the property. With each big decision over the years, we had to trust that our carefully-laid plans would not be shattered by some unforeseen development. What if a new bishop decided he wanted the property for some other purpose? What if the property needed to be liquidated in a sex abuse lawsuit? There were many unknowns and we had to trust the assurances we were given. What a blessing and a comfort to know that the security of the Bethlehem Farm property and future projects will rest in the trusted hands of the Board of Directors and Caretaker Community with the purchase of our property.

How will we raise $36,000?
With donations or pledges at the following levels:
2 at $5,000
6 at $1,000
5 at $750
10 at $500
15 at $250
25 at $100
50 at $50
100 at $25
Each $750 donation secures one acre of the Farm, 1/48th of our future! Give online now.

While the response to the Rebuild My Church Capital Campaign has been solid ($250,000 raised toward the $450,000 campaign goal in the first six months), our donations have slowed in the past few months and we may need to delay the execution of the maintenance garage/tool barn/wood shop/picnic shelter project until more support comes in. A solid response to this property purchase plea will help ensure that the remainder of the Rebuild My Church Capital Campaign can stay on schedule. Please prayerfully consider where your giving can fit into the funding plan above.

There are several ways that you can partner with us to make the property purchase a reality:
1. Donate now online at
2. Begin a monthly donation through your online bill-pay or via the donate link above
3. Make a multi-year pledge via mail, phone or email (
4. Ask your parish or community group to sponsor an acre or more of Bethlehem Farm (gather a group of people that can raise $750). You can set up a social fundraising page on our website following the instructions here (except choose “Rebuild My Church Capital Campaign” instead of “Partners in Mission” under campaign name).

Aside from security, what else will outright ownership of the property mean to us?
  • The decisions of the Board regarding the property will be the last word and not subject to the external review required by our lease agreement.
  • We will have more freedom to advocate for and express our values (our lease required permission for posting signs on the property, for example).
  • We will have equity that we can borrow against in the event of neighboring properties coming up for sale that are integral to our programming and retreat atmosphere.
  • It will be easier to attract funding for capital improvements, since they will not be at risk of loss with a change in landlord.
“From the moment we stepped onto this property, we sensed the Holy Spirit was here.”

There is something special, holy, and unique about the Farm: the 1/2-mile gravel drive up to the hilltop, the log retreat house, the pastures, gardens, and animals all speak to the purpose and mission of Bethlehem Farm. Whether deepening faith through loving relationships, learning from a low-income homeowner through home repair, or experiencing God’s creation here on the Farm property, the lessons each participant learns here are impressive reminders of the importance of the Bethlehem Farm mission.Our goal is to secure the future of Bethlehem Farm by purchasing the 48-acre property that we have called “home” for the past 14+ years. This is a great deal: the land alone could easily sell for $100,000, not to mention the buildings—please help us seal the deal on a critical piece of Bethlehem Farm’s future. We invite you to help us “Rebuild My Church” through this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Peace and all Good,
Eric R. Fitts, Director
Jake Teitgen, Chair of the Board

Bethlehem Farm
PO Box 415
Talcott, WV 24981

Transforming lives through serving with the local community and teaching sustainable practices
Phone: 304.445.7143 

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

San Damiano Center for Sustainability: Foundation Complete, Part XI

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Foundation Complete, Part XI

by Eric Fitts, Director

The crew from Solak Builders was back to make some relief cuts in the slab, begin some block work around the rain water hydrant for the chicken coop, and lay the last 2 courses of block on top of the slab to create a knee wall for the framing to sit upon (so there is no wood at ground level, which will leave it less exposed to rot). The framing kit arrives from Shelter-Kit on May 23rd (20 pallets of materials on a 48-ft flatbed truck!). We’ll epoxy our anchor bolts into the foundation and begin framing!

Meanwhile, we are holding Eric and Jeremy close in prayer, as well as Will & Roni, as each needs us to lift them up a bit this week.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

San Damiano Center for Sustainability: foundation in progress, Part X

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Foundation in Progress, Part X

by Eric Fitts, Director

The day finally arrived to pour the slab for San Damiano. Vapor barrier was placed down (to protect the contents of the building from rust due to condensation from the ground), forms put up, and we were ready for 4 cement trucks carrying 8 cu yds of concrete each. A “little” left over at the end meant that we could also pave the educational area on the left side.

Many thanks to Eric Franklin and Mark Solak of Solak Builders for setting up the pour and to Steve Amick, Mike and Dillon of SAA Builders of Rainelle for their masterful job pouring and finishing the slab–not easy work, especially on yet another unseasonably warm and sunny day.

Next up: Solak Builders returns to make the relief cuts in the slab, run two more courses of block on top of the slab, and set the bolts for the posts and sill plates.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

Old Garden Tool Shed Demolition complete as we make way for Maintenance Garage

Old Garden Tool Shed Demolition/Salvage:
Demo completed as we prepare site for Maintenance Garage

by Eric Fitts, Director

Solak Builders took over where our Farm crews left off, as they demolished the remainder of the old garden tool shed. All of the locust posts were salvaged, which will be useful around the farm, and all metal was sent to the scrap yard for recycling. Topsoil begins to be removed from the site as it is prepared for the maintenance garage.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

San Damiano Center for Sustainability: foundation in progress, Part IX

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Foundation in Progress, Part IX

by Eric Fitts, Director

The final course of block before the slab gets poured is in place, corrugated metal has been installed over the composting toilet bins and root cellar for the slab to pour over top of them, and forms have been placed and braced along the back to hold the wet concrete in place until it sets.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

Old Garden Tool Shed Demolition/Salvage Progresses as we make way for Maintenance Garage

Old Garden Tool Shed Demolition/Salvage:
Progress made as we prepare site for Maintenance Garage

by Eric Fitts, Director

I worked with morning chore groups and three Farm Crew days over Holy Week and Easter Week to salvage as much material as possible from the Old Garden Tool Shed as we demolish it to prepare the site for the future maintenance garage. The crews from St. Martin de Porres HS (Cleveland), Xaverian Brothers HS ((MA), St. John’s HS (Shrewsbury, MA), Xavier College Prep (Palm Desert, CA), St. Joe’s Collegiate Institute (Buffalo), and Cristo Rey Brooklyn were pretty stoked to be able to take a sledge hammer to a wall or salvage roof metal for recycling, while also being careful to salvage old roughcut boards with finesse. We loaded an entire bay of the supply shed with beautiful old lumber that we’ll use for some finishing touches on the new buildings (as a memorial of sorts) and for other projects around the Farm.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign