Willie Powell to youths: Grab a brush

Activist Willie Powell is recruiting youths to join him — for free —in painting houses this summer.

MONCKS CORNER -- The sun was beating down on three paint- spattered men as the mercury hovered at 94 degrees last week.

They were working for free, painting the house of a disabled woman who couldn't afford to hire anybody.

None of these guys is a spring chicken, but they're hoping to inspire young people to get involved.

Community activist Willie Powell is at it again.

Powell was in the news two years ago when he successfully pushed for several community parks for youths. When school gets out this summer, he's hoping to get young people working to improve the community.

"I'm trying wake up young people," he said. "I need the young people to wake up and join in. Since I gave a lot to the young people, I want them to come back and give back to the community themselves. I gave my time for free to them. I want them to come back and give some of their time for free."

Powell, 58, is a painter knocked out of full-time work by a job injury. He said he was exposed to toxic chemicals while painting at the state mental hospital in Columbia.

"I fit right in there," he joked.

He is an enthusiastic, fast-talking guy with a frequent comedy routine.

Longtime friend William Manigault, also of Moncks Corner, will be 67 in August. He paints with a smile, joking about looking forward to some buzzard stew at the end of the day.

"He can go now," Powell said of his friend's energy. "He can go."

Leon Gathers of St. Stephen is 60. He quit working construction in Massachusetts when he hurt his back.

"When I came back home, I wanted to put something back into my community," he said. "I'm doing a little bit here and there. I get a little strength, I try to help out. I'm going to do what I can do while I can do it."

This was the eighth house Powell and whomever he can round up to help him have painted for free, other than getting a little money for the paint sometimes. He calls his effort "Take One To Help One."

Powell found a way to get paint for $5 a gallon (like a favorite fishing hole, he didn't disclose the location), and put out the word that he would paint houses for next to nothing for people who can't afford it. More than 100 people responded. Now he's looking for volunteers.

"I cannot paint everybody's house," he said. "But what I could do is provide paint for anybody who wants to do the same thing I'm doing in their community, like St. Stephen, Cross or wherever."

Delores Arias owns the house that was painted last week. She raised 11 children and now moves around in a wheelchair.

"I think it's just wonderful," she said of the effort.

One of her sons, Jose Jackson, also was helping.

"If somebody is living in the house with an able body, I call them out to help too," Powell said.