Local church builds home for veteran custodian

by Emily Kennard

UNC Co-Editor

the Durham Voice

When Robert Daye, the custodian at First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main St., finishes his day at work, he doesn’t leave the church – he lives there.

But soon Daye will have his own house to call home.


Senior Pastor Joseph Harvard, left,  stands with Robert Daye in the church’s memorial garden. With help from Harvard and the church community, Daye should move into his new house in December. (Photo by Emily Kennard)

Church members and staff, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, are volunteering their time, money and hard work to give Daye, who has worked at the church for 30 years, a new house in December.

Senior Pastor Joseph Harvard, who has known Daye for 29 years, thought of the idea last November. The church built a house for a daycare worker two years ago, and Harvard thought that Daye would be the perfect next candidate.

“People love Robert, and he’s such a faithful employee,” Harvard said. “We knew he needed to get his feet on the ground, and we wanted to help.”

Sunday school teacher and church member Tim Strauman agrees that Daye is an important asset to the church.

“He’s been here for a long time. He’s a terrific person,” Strauman said. “He’s always here to help. He’s always in the background making sure everything goes well.”

Daye said although he enjoys living at the church, he is excited to move out.

“I’ve lived in the church for seven years,” Daye said. “It’s good, but you get confined.”

Daye said he is eager to do things such as grill, sit outside and have more free time to pursue his hobbies such as fishing.

“Living at the church was like being on call on the time,” Daye said. He recently had to fix a burst pipe at 2 a.m.

Daye applied to be a homeowner last February, which required him to take classes about money management, earn a certain income and have no credit or doctor bills. In addition, he has to volunteer 250 hours helping build the house, also known as “sweat equity.” If he completes these hours, he will not have to make a down payment on the house.

Daye, who worked in construction before coming to the church, said manual labor now takes a toll on his body.

“It’s a little hard once you get old,” he said. Harvard agrees.

“I was out there working, and I was covered with perspiration,” he said. “Sweat equity took on a whole new meaning.”

Once Daye was accepted as a homeowner by Habitat for Huamnity, the church started raising money to be the sponsor. Habitat for Humanity provided $15,650, and the church raised $34,450 – in only six weeks.

“It was the easiest money we’ve ever raised,” Harvard said.

About 20 church volunteers help every Saturday with construction at the location of Daye’s new house at 702 Carroll St. Church member Dale Gaddis coordinates volunteer efforts.

“Everyone in the church loves Robert,” she said. “It’s very easy to get volunteers.”

Harvard said this project connects the church community in a new way.

“People see each other at church and they recognize each other,” he said.
“But if you sit together on a hot afternoon hammering nails, that’s a bonding experience.”

15-year-old Mustafa Muhammad will live with Daye on the weekends in the new house as well. Muhammad, who volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and also works at the church, helped demolish a house to make room for his and Daye’s new one.

“It was fun,” Muhammad said. “I got to bust holes in the walls.”

Daye, who celebrated his 58th birthday last week, said he is anxious to move into his new house.

“I’ll be glad when this is all over,” he said. Muhammad agrees.

“It’ll be exciting to meet more people in the neighborhood,” he said.

Harvard said until the keys are in Daye’s hands and the house is completed, the church will continue to help its favorite custodian receive his brand new home.

“People are excited about this because it’s something they’re invested in,” he said. “It brings people together.”