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Foundation boosts adoptive couples, aids women whose husbands have died

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Josh Jacobson, Jeremy Wilson, and David Rudkin (left to right) nail in the siding on a shed they are helping to build for Forest Grove resident Rebecca Cohoon. Shelley and Josh Jacobson of Tigard spent last Saturday with scores of friends working on the home of Forest Grove widow Rebecca Cohoon. They created a new shed and raised planters, put down flooring and reframed a door. Another team of volunteers had arrived Friday evening to clear the area for the shed and lay the foundation.

Cohoon’s husband succumbed to a brain tumor two years ago, and she has struggled to keep up with yard chores and repairs he used to handle while Rebecca tended to their three teenagers.

The weekend project, an outreach of the Tennessee-based Both Hands Foundation, had a dual purpose — it will also benefit the Jacobsons, who hope to adopt children from Uganda.

Using the tag line, “One for the widow, one for the orphan,” the foundation helps people raise funds to aid orphans while serving widows through home improvement projects. The nonprofit’s founder, JT Olson, was orphaned when both his parents were killed in a car accident, after which he and his four siblings went to live with an aunt and uncle.

“The idea for Both Hands came as the result of a simple letter to a friend asking if he’d sponsor me while I golfed,” Olson. “The funds would go to a wonderful ministry for women in crisis pregnancies.

“My friend sent my letter back with a handwritten message saying that he’d gladly support my efforts if I was working on a widow’s house instead of playing golf.”

The letter stuck with Olson until another friend, who was adopting four children from Moldova, expressed his need to raise funds to pay for the process. “That’s when the idea for Both Hands grew legs,” noted Olson. “We recruited other friends, found a widow’s house in need of repairs, got local businesses to donate supplies and food — and hundreds of people sent in checks to sponsor the workers that day.”

Since 2007, Both Hands has completed 342 projects in 39 states, according to its website, raising nearly $3.7 million. Once an adoptive family or project manager has been approved for fundraising support, they enlist the help of their friends and form a team. The team then sends letters out to their contacts asking them to consider a one-day sponsorship as they work on a widow’s house.

As event coordinators for Cohoon’s project, the Jacobsons were required to find companies to donate supplies. “We have been out of our element a lot,” said Shelley. “We found a lot of great companies that we didn’t even know existed — it’s fantastic.”

Money raised at the event will be provided to Bethany Christian Services, the adoption agency the Jacobsons are using. The financial need is great, says Jacobson. “If you were to adopt one child it will take from 18 months to five years, depending on the country, and will run $20,000 to $26,000. We hope to adopt three children [to keep a sibling group together], so we are looking at about $60,000.”

The couple learned about Both Hands when reading a book on how to adopt while remaining debt-free. It was a perfect solution for Jacobson as she understands losing a parent. “My mom was widowed at a very young age, when I was 13 and my sister, Shannon McGinnis, was 7.” The project was also special to Shelley as she grew up in Forest Grove and graduated from Forest Grove High School.

In the near future, the Jacobson family hopes to be on a plane to Uganda for the first of two trips to complete the adoption process. “We will take our [three] biological children on one of the trips to meet and see where their siblings live, to experience that,” Shelley said.

Want to help?

Josh and Shelley Jacobson are still short of their adoption-fundraising goal by about $45,000. Donations can be made through the Both Hands Foundation website at bothhandsfoundsation.org/josh-and-shelley-jacobson.

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