Smithfield Herald

Women Roofers coming to Johnston County next month

People Magazine featured the Women Roofers earlier this year.
People Magazine featured the Women Roofers earlier this year.

The Women Roofers are coming to Johnston County, and they’re looking for volunteers.

The women have received national attention for their gender-defying way of giving back to the community. They have been featured in People Magazine and on CBS News.

Made up of mostly middle-aged to retirement-aged women, the group takes on multiple roofing projects each year. They strip off old shingles and hammer on new ones for free, raising money along the way to buy materials. The repairs go to homeowners who can’t afford to fix their own roofs.

Based in Rutherford County, the women are coming to Johnston County Oct. 4 and 5 to help a local group roof either one or two homes, depending on how many other people volunteer.

“It is a very unique opportunity,” said Tommy Cook, director of the JOCO Project, which the women roofers are helping. “These women, they’re kind of famous.”

Cook said he welcomes their help and hopes people from the community will join in and volunteer.

The JOCO project plans to roof a house in Four Oaks and a home in Princeton. The Women Roofers are bringing about 10 people, but to finish two roofs in two days, they need about 20 volunteers each day, Cook said.

The JOCO Project is an interdenominational mission of young people and adults who repair homes in the county, Cook said. The volunteers have been working in the county the past two summers, he added.

Nell Perry Bovender was one of the first Women Roofers. Bovender grew up in Smithfield, and a local church asked if she could bring some of her group to aid the JOCO Project.

The women came together more than a decade ago. Bovender was in a coed Sunday School class and asked if some of her classmates could help on a volunteer repair job, she recalled. After only she and two other women showed up, they expected the man supervising the repairs to tell them to wait until men arrived to do the work. But instead, he said, “Get your hammers, and let’s get to work.”

“It just blew them away that women could do it,” Bovender said. “The more they talked about it, it formed. We just got excited about the possibility, and we’ve been roofing together ever since.”

Since then, Bovender said, the group has repaired more than 60 roofs. Whenever a job comes up, they send out an email to a list of more than 130 volunteers, including a handful of men. Whoever can come that day shows up.

Bovender said her group usually has a professional roofer with them to supervise the work; often, that’s a man. But at this point, the women have been doing this so long they need little guidance.

Bovender said their work is about more than fixing roofs. “This is the best group of friends I’ve ever had,” she said. “For all the good that we have done for other people, it’s been a real blessing for me. You’re helping people. You’re working alongside like-minded women.” They even celebrate birthdays “on the roof,” she said.

Bovender said she hopes her group’s visit inspires more people to help their communities.

“Whether or not it’s working on a roof, there are just a gazillion nonprofits out there working to help people in need,” she said. “If our coming to Eastern North Carolina inspires a group to form and they become good friends and begin to do something for the next 10 years, I would be really excited.”

Cook said he is excited by what the Women Roofers have accomplished and hopes their fame will bring more interest to the JOCO Project. “We just think it’s a big deal what (Bovender’s) doing, what she’s been able to do with her exceptional group of women,” he said. “So we wanted to hopefully encourage other people to see if this is something we could do as well.”

To help the Women Roofers, call Tommy Cook at 919-934-9771 or email him at no later than Sept. 20.