A volunteer group of contractors from the Pinetree Chapter of NAOHSM helped lay down tubing for the radiant floor heating system at the Root Cellar prior to the floor's cement pour.

LEWISTON, Maine - When a person has nowhere to turn in times of trouble, he or she often looks for help from community social groups, charitable organizations, or ministries. The urgency is even greater when a person is in a foreign land, looking for any help that is available.

Having a "safe house" to visit and get the needed support is critical, although some communities may lack the resources to support such an organization. Fortunately for the people in two Maine communities - Portland and Lewiston - there is such a group. The Root Cellar is an organization that supports thousands of immigrants in those two communities.

Part of its mission statement is this: "The Root Cellar is an interdenominational mission meeting the physical and spiritual needs of inner-city youth and their families by engaging the Christian community in volunteer ministries to build relationships that demonstrate the love and hope of the living Jesus Christ."

Portland's facility is well established and provides many services for the community. Lewiston, on the other hand, has been trying to build its own home because of the need for its services. While the organization was able to find a building, it lacked the resources to refurbish the facility and make it useable. The building needed repair and had no working heating system. But the plight of the Root Cellar didn't last long. Thanks to a long list of volunteers in the community and hard work by local oil heating professionals, the facility will soon have a first class heating system and be a place for immigrants to gather in the coming winter months.

Robert O'Connor, an Augusta contractor, was impressed with the Portland facility, so impressed that he began to coordinate an effort to bring heat to the Lewiston building. "Seeing what the Root Cellar does for the immigrants motivated me to do what I did," he said.


O'Connor was asked by friend and heating contractor Mark Cloutier if he would be interested in helping out the Root Cellar. After visiting the Portland location, O'Connor agreed to head up a group to explore the possibility of getting donated equipment and labor for the task.

The Root Cellar had a make-shift floor and the first thing to do was get funding to have an overpoured cement floor. Having secured that (the cement work was eventually donated by a local contractor), O'Connor sought the help of Oil Heat Cares, a not-for-profit foundation that assists needy persons and organizations with the replacement of their oil-heating appliance. Funds are raised to purchase heating equipment and the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM) chapters and members identify those within their neighborhoods who need a temporary helping hand by installing the equipment at no cost to the homeowner.

O'Connor hoped to get a reply from Oil Heat Cares - and he did. One of the directors, Dan Holohan, toured the Lewiston facility and immediately saw the need for help.

Prior to visiting the site, Holohan, creator of the popular Website HeatingHelp.com, secured a boiler for the project from Ed Nordstrom of Viessmann. He then asked manufacturers for pricing on infloor tubing. "I had asked all the tube manufacturers on the Wall [his Website message board] to get in touch with me with a discounted price, saying that we would take the best price," said Holohan. "It seemed like a fair way to go about it. No one could beat Uponor's price, which was free. Uponor and their rep John Barba are always there for us."

With the boiler and tubing secured, along with manifolds from Uponor and zone valves from Honeywell, O'Connor and a crew of 8-10 volunteers from the Pinetree (Maine) Chapter of NAOHSM laid the tubing before the pour. But the work wasn't done. The Root Cellar needed to construct an adjacent boiler room to house the Viessman boiler, which it found volunteers to do. And O'Connor needed extra resources to complete the work. So he asked for a monetary donation from Oil Heat Cares.

The organization came through with a $5,200 check to complete setting up the system and paying for any incidentals. Maine distributors Bell/Simons and F.W. Webb donated materials and design planning for the system. O'Connor, who said he spent "untold hours" working on the project, was very grateful and happy to see the unselfish work of the Lewiston community.

"It's been a real learning curve about how to work with charitable organizations," he said. "There were times when I was overwhelmed by it, but it is going to be an awesome center. I am proud to work with this project in some small way. This community is very generous."

Root Cellar executive director Dale Carlson commended the volunteers. "With all the other renovation needs, I can't comprehend how we could have provided for a heating system like the one Oil Heat Cares has installed for us," he said. "They have installed the best in an effort to help us control future energy costs. Robert O'Connor has been amazing. This job has become his passion. He has worked endlessly pulling people and resources together to make this happen."

Carlson went on to thank Oil Heat Cares for its generous contribution. "I can't even begin to express my thanks to these men from Oil Heat Cares," he said. "What a tremendous organization made up of the finest people Maine has to offer."

For more information, visit www.oilheatcares.com and www.therootcellar.org.

Publication date: 11/27/2006