In a world where many in society have been conditioned to look to government to solve their problems, it is both refreshing and unusual to see an example where individual responsibility and hard work, combined with private industry, a generous heart, and God’s grace come together.
Located just off the Parks Highway between Wasilla and Meadow Lakes you will find a unique general contractor, called Working Hands. Employing formerly incarcerated men who have paid their debt for their crimes, and find themselves released into a world where there are scant opportunities to rebuild a life and often unable to find reliable work, Working Hands LLC has stepped into the gap to employ these men who demonstrate Christ-like change, to give them dignity, to give them hope.
It all started with the first man in the program, Henry Bauer, who served a lengthy sentence for killing another man, and while serving his time, found Christ.
“The hardest thing that I have to do is to believe that I am forgiven,” he said. “I have to lean on Christ because I know I caused pain that will never go away. Even though I served the sentence I was given, 28 years, I know that no deeds will satisfy or repair the damage I did as a reckless, angry young man with a drinking problem. I killed a man and wrecked a family and I have prayed and wished so much that he would have killed me instead, because I had it coming, and he did not. Trusting God, that He could forgive me in spite of my terrible sins is the heavy cross I have to bear… and it is heavy. Now, I serve the Lord every day of my life. I work hard, I minister hope to the hopeless, and give thanks to God that my life has some chance at meaning, even after all I have done.”
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While incarcerated, Henry had decided to do everything in his power to improve himself, skipping over the Bible he mused, he had read every self-help book on the prison shelves, but in his words, “Nothing would last, nothing would stick.” His grandmother and most frequent pen-pal in prison fell ill, and passed away. She was a believer and it was then that Henry took his first opportunity to pray – to pray that his anguish would end, and his heart would stop hurting so badly. In the morning, he felt an unexpected and undeserved peace, and so decided to apply to a religious program he had derided for years, TLC, Transformational Living Community.
“I didn’t even think I would get into the program, but somehow, I did – and for the first time in my life I saw men hugging and being joyful in a way I couldn’t understand. I wanted to leave, it all seemed wrong and fake, and then I saw someone I did not expect, a former gangbanger I knew from prison, who told me I should stay…. and so I did, and everything changed.”
“…here is a man trying hard to make something of himself.”
In prison, Henry had taken every conceivable online course, certification, and program for which he could learn and test. After being released, it was at church that he first met the future progenitor of Working Hands, Scott, a man who would become both mentor and friend. When speaking with Scott for this story, he recalled looking at Henry’s resume the first time.
“It was the most unique resume I’d ever seen, he had every certification you could think of, from Microsoft programs to accounting, but no real work experience,” he said. “Made me smile and think, here is a man trying hard to make something of himself.”
Scott connected Henry with his son Tyler, who owns Talon Construction, and Tyler hired Henry as a day laborer. After working through the busy season, Tyler had to lay Henry off. Now jobless, Henry recalled, “Totally out of the blue, Scott offered me a proposal to create a business we would soon call Working Hands, the opposite of idle hands, and I turned him down at first because I just wanted to be a slope-worker. He persisted and won me over in spite of my objections. I threw up every obstacle I could think of, and Scott just took them all away, while he and his son Tyler taught me the ropes of contracting.”
“When I told him, ‘I can’t do this without a truck,’ he got me a truck. When I said ‘I can’t do this without tools,’ he procured the tools I needed. A place to work from, you name it, no matter what I did, Scott just came through with a light, and joy, and a kind word of encouragement. He gave me the space to fail, and when I inevitably did, he would ask me if I learned a lesson, and I would say ‘Yes,’ and he would make the company whole, and continue to encourage me. I often think now about my life… my wife, the five children I am helping to raise, my friends, and my faith community and I marvel at God’s handiwork, and Scott, who has never taken one penny in compensation for Working Hands and just does it because he is that kind of man, and his son Tyler who has also taught me so much. I am blessed beyond measure.”
Working Hands LLC is now in its 3rd year, and has employed over 35 men who have received God and His grace, and who have demonstrated a Christ-like change in their lives and behavior. These men perform every conceivable useful task for a homeowner or business, from mowing grass and changing lightbulbs in the home of an aging widow, to whole home additions and even building the new Garden Center at Lowe’s after the Mat-Su snowpocalypse last Christmas. In Henry’s words, quoting Colossians, “Whatever we do, we do with all our heart, as if working for the Lord.”
The story of Working Hands is one of generosity, grace, forgiveness and humility in a world that is often inclined to create government programs to remediate that which is best done privately – with repentance and a genuine change of heart, which is possible with God.