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Smith Moore volunteers honoring partner

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Steve Earp

Steve Earp

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In addition to a roast in May to honor his eight years as chairman of the management committee at law firm Smith Moore Leatherwood, colleagues of Steve Earp are raising funds and volunteering to build a house this fall for his favorite charity.

Managing the firm, which has six offices and roughly 200 lawyers, took about half to two-thirds of the work week for Earp, an environmental lawyer who has returned to his legal practice, says Mike Kelly, the firm’s administrative partner.

Last year, Kelly and several other colleagues of Earp accompanied him on his annual house-building mission to Piedras Negras, a city in Mexico across the Texas border from San Antonio where Constructores Para Cristos, or Builders for Christ, builds houses for families that qualify.

Earp, who got involved with the organization through his congregation, Westminster Presbyterian Church, has traveled to the Mexican city once or twice a year for about 10 years and helped build about 20 houses there.

Rick Ellis, chief executive at Smith Moore Leatherwood, and Skip Long, the firm’s chief financial officer, both participated in last year’s build and signed up again this year, as has Doug Walker, the firm’s chief operating officer.

“This is a great team-building exercise,” says Kelly. “You get to know one another real well.”

Organizers of the firm’s volunteer effort had hoped to raise $10,000, including $9,000 for the purchase of building materials and $1,000 to cover Earp’s expenses.

Now, the group expects to raise $20,000, enough to pay for a second house or provide support for a medical clinic and school in Piedras Negras.

Participants pay their own way for travel and for rooms and meals at a nearby Quality Inn.

The local group of volunteers, which will include some spouses and likely will total 15 to 18 people, will fly on a Sunday this October from the Triad to San Antonio, rent a couple of vans and drive about 150 miles southwest to Piedras Negras.

After a 6:30 a.m. breakfast the following day, the group will go to the building site, where they will meet the family that has purchased the property and say their daily devotions.

Last year’s group, for example, included the immediate family, most of whom helped build the house, plus a grandfather, a grandmother who watched the family’s child, and several brothers and uncles.

Earp will lead the construction team, which will be joined by local workers and builders who rotate among several construction sites for Constructores Para Cristos, which is based in Birmingham, Ala.

After working from about 7 a.m. to noon each day, the team breaks for lunch and honors the Mexican tradition of “siesta” time, then returns to work from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“Siesta gets you out of the worst of the heat,” Kelly says.

The construction work should be completed Thursday the same week, with a dedication service on Friday.

While they likely check their Blackberries when they return to their motel in the evening, members of the Smith Moore Leatherwood team typically have little time for thinking about work back home, Kelly says.

“You get up from behind the desk and out of the chair,” he says. “It is extraordinarily hard work. It is quite good for all of us.”

The main benefit is the “belief experience, the team experience and just the gratification,” he says.

“I found it to be a life-changing experience,” he says, “and I’m going back.”

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