By Bridget Manley, publisher
After a house fire left one of Harrisonburg’s most generous and engaged residents without a place to live this summer, some of his neighbors and friends banded together to try give back to someone who has given so much to them.
Those efforts have snowballed into an avalanche of giving from local architects, contractors, builders and other residents who have vowed to rebuild his home at no cost to him.
Now, with the help of the Harrisonburg community, they are working to raise the funds to cover the building costs to make that a reality.
Jacob Pringle, known as J.P. to many in Harrisonburg, noticed smoke coming from the attic of his nearly 100-year-old home on East Johnson Street in August, said Harrisonburg Fire Chief Matthew Tobia.
Tobia said after Pringle tried to extinguish the flames, the fire department arrived. The home, which was uninsured, suffered extensive damage and was later declared a total loss.
Pringle, who is 76, lost most of his possessions — so much of what he’d worked for during a lifetime.
“He was in shock, for sure,” said Jim Rankin, who has known Pringle for more than 45 years.
“He really had a hard time excepting that he couldn’t, from his own resources, put his home back together and live in it,” Rankin said.
Rankin is one of many community members who say Pringle has gone out of his way to help his neighbors with anything they need.
“He is that good neighbor,” Rankin said. “I just don’t know anything that anybody has asked him to do that he wouldn’t do. If he can help you, he will.”
Pringle has helped maintain the playground and cut the lawn at First Baptist Church over the years, and friends say he is always there to help carry in groceries, fix things that need repaired, and lend a helping hand wherever he is needed.
So, when he lost everything in the fire, Rankin, Tobia and others formed a committee — which they call Team Pringle — to help the neighbor who has always helped everyone else.
At first, the committee helped him with immediate needs: food, short term housing, clothing and access to non-profit services.
After those needs were met, Team Pringle starting strategizing about the long term.
“The Northeast Neighborhood wanted to see what they could do, the [First Baptist] Church wanted to know what they could do, and there was a sense of community responsibility in the air,” Rankin said.
That’s when the idea to rebuild the home began to take shape.
Serendipity at the dump
After members of Team Pringle were cleared to reenter the home and retrieve some of Pringle’s belongings, they took a load of destroyed materials to the dump.
While they were there, they ran into Barry Kelley, CEO of Matchbox Realty and Management Services, Inc.
Kelley said Pringle has been a fixture in the community — the kind of guy “you always like to see because he is always smiling, always waving and just a friendly person.”
Kelley hadn’t heard about the fire. But when he saw Pringle unloading his trailer with burnt items, he asked what happened.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen him in all the years I’d known him that he was glum and depressed,” Kelley said. “He said, ‘My house burnt up.’”
Kelley said when the members of Team Pringle arrived to help, Kelley learned the details of the fire and the plans to help Pringle rebuild.
“When he heard what we were doing out there, he volunteered,” Rankin said. “He said, ‘What can I do? I want to help.’”
Kelley, who is a class A builder, volunteered to help build the home as the general contractor and builder.
After Kelley had officially joined Team Pringle, they began working hard to secure other sources and materials at cost or for no cost, including the materials to build the home.
Clint Harmon volunteered his time to survey the property at no cost, and Randy Seitz and Anna Campbell with Blueline Architects drew up the house plans pro bono. Others have donated a dumpster and a storage unit.
And knowing the short-term hotel housing that Team Pringle provided would not last, Kelley gave Pringle a free place to live until his home is built.
Finding the funds
Team Pringle is now in the process to raise the necessary funds to cover the cost of the building materials and other costs associated with the build.
The GoFundMe page, which has a goal of $150,000, has collected nearly $4,000. Team Pringle is hopeful the community can band together to give the money needed to rebuild the home.
Tobia, the fire chief, said the next step will be assessing how what’s left of the home will be demolished. There is asbestos on the roof, which is typical in old homes, Tobia said. That means it will take time and care to remove and dispose of it.
Maust Enterprises has agreed to demolish the home at cost, according to Kelley. Kelley and his team will dig the trenches, and then work will begin in earnest.
First Baptist Church, a partner of the Team Pringle committee, set up a separate account set up specifically for the Pringle Fund.
That fund has $18,000 in the bank already, Rankin said, which means they can begin work soon.
“We don’t want him to have a mortgage when this is over,” Rankin said.
They have a self-imposed deadline of a year to complete the project, but they are hoping the home will be ready sooner.
Both Tobia and Rankin say that for Pringle, accepting help was hard at first because he is always the neighbor that helps everyone else.
“J.P. is someone who is so willing to give to others,” Tobia said. “If there was ever someone who deserved this, it’s him.”
Rankin said the community response — from the churches, corporations, organizations and community members — has been overwhelming.
“I know that Harrisonburg is a community of caring, giving people and rallying around each other,” Ranking said. “So, I haven’t been surprised, but it’s been a blessing to be a part of it….A feeling of goodwill. At Christmas I always get that feeling, and this just seems like it accents that goodwill.”
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