When the North Texas chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America captured honors at the April 14 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Awards Luncheon, accolades came from all over.

The chapter's Community Services Foundation won the Volunteer Center of Dallas' Adult Group category solely on its good deeds in Dallas County, but plaudits were also sent from west of the Trinity.

Sharon Hogan, chief executive officer of the Metroplex Food Bank in Fort Worth, said that one of the nonprofit foundation's members, Professional Service Co. of DeSoto, proved "absolutely awesome" in a crisis.

When the food bank's freezer failed in October, Professional Service answered the call and fixed it free of charge. "Without them, we'd have been out of business," Ms. Hogan said.

"We had to throw out 95,000 pounds of food, the equivalent of three tractor-trailers full, worth $5,000.

"They saved 20 years of our work."

How long did it take them to fix it? A day?

"It took them a week."

The Community Services Foundation is involved in three major volunteer projects - Beat the Heat in the summer, Heat the Town in the winter and Habitat for Humanity year-round.

The first two programs have been carried out since 1991 in partnership with the city of Dallas' People Helping People program, managed by Suanne Durham.

Ms. Durham nominated Community Services Foundation for the Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award.

The city qualifies clients for assistance, and People Helping People makes the referrals, she explained.

"We have the caseworkers who go out in the field and locate the elderly homeowners who qualify. They have to be homeowners, 60 or better, and of low income or they can be as young as 35 if they are disabled," Ms. Durham said.

"Heat the Town gets under way one time a year in September or October for heat repair, checking for gas leaks, carbon monoxide, etc., cleaning. It's amazing what they do, all in a day."

Beat the Heat, which includes installing 110-volt window units and checking wiring, goes on all summer.

Donated Parts

The association's members, wholesalers and manufacturers donate the parts and equipment.

Josh Kahn, vice president of Kahn Mechanical Contractors, stepped down as president of the Community Services Foundation earlier this month. His mother, Ann Kahn, succeeded him.

Mother and son are a team in business and in their volunteer work.

He's now president of the state contractors' organization. It's too early to tell whether his mother will follow in his footsteps.

Though she is an unpaid member of the Kahn family's firm, Mr. Kahn said that his wife, Charlotte, "watches every dime that comes in and goes out."

"She operates the office and is definitely a part of the volunteer effort," often helping fix a "big breakfast for the volunteers" before they begin a project.

Ms. Durham said Josh and his mother "are the biggest go-getters and do so much for the program."

"I don't know of many other cities that have similar partnerships with their air conditioning and heating contractors. They have been lifesavers."

When she nominated the group, Ms. Durham noted that "during 2002, 190 volunteers worked almost year-round to install 50 window units and service/repair 85 heating units for elderly or disabled homeowners."

"In addition, ACCA members pledge to respond to 28 additional requests for service during the cold of winter to assist homeowners who had no source of heat.

"The programs are organized, funded and facilitated by ACCA members who donate their time, talents, goods and services for people in crisis.

"Volunteers logged over 650 hours and drove thousands of miles to serve homeowners across the vast expanse of Dallas.

"Volunteers braved every type of weather extreme imaginable: from exhausting 100-plus-degree attic heat to [subfreezing] temperatures in dark, damp crawl spaces to service, assess and repair units."

Ms. Durham said she encourages homeowners who may qualify for the programs or volunteers who would like to help to call her at 214-670-7320.

Habitat For Humanity

Air Conditioning Contractors of America and its Community Services Foundation also work with the Habitat for Humanity, which is not part of its partnership with the city.

The local volunteers have been active in Habitat for Humanity projects all along the Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth axis, giving time and money to improve the lives of the less fortunate.

As head of the state organization, Mr. Kahn is pushing members in other cities to adopt this volunteer program. San Antonio and Houston have already joined Dallas-Fort Worth members in the cause.

Mr. Kahn, carrying the volunteer message to national conventions, got a positive response from a contractor in Colorado and another in California.

This volunteer effort has already won the hearts of Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding communities.

Now it's on its way to winning hearts throughout the state and beyond.

Reprinted with permission of the Dallas Morning News.

Publication date: 05/12/2003