It’s a good thing Matt Wilford didn’t succeed as a musician.
As the executive director of Builders Care, the charitable arm of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, it’s Wilford’s job to renovate homes and community centers for Jacksonville’s neediest residents.
It’s work he feels he was called to do. But earlier in life, the path wasn’t as clear.
If he’d had his druthers as a teen, Wilford would have studied Recording Arts at Orlando’s Full Sail University.
Wilford, who plays guitar, had created his own record label, Dark Rain Records. He spent a year promoting Jacksonville bands, booking gigs and studio recording time.
Even his father, Don Wilford, a third generation builder and a division president of ICI Homes, didn’t think Matt would become a builder.
“He thought I’d be an astronaut before I’d do construction,” Matt Wilford said.
The music career didn’t last. “I found out it was hard,” he said.
So he took a job with Mercedes Homes as an assistant superintendent, and was quickly advanced to superintendent.
“I thought, ‘My dad’s done pretty well at this, let’s try it out,’” Wilford said. “Once I did, I was hooked. I was outside, I was moving around. There was a lot of liberty. I was 21 years old and I was running 20 houses. “
For eight years Wilford built homes in Jacksonville, working for three construction companies, including ICI Homes. Then, he heard another calling.
He and his wife, Ashley learned about a church mission in New Orleans, the Dream Center, where the homeless received food and medical care every month. Ashley Wilford’s family lived in New Orleans, and the couple felt God wanted them there.
The Wilfords moved and ultimately helped with the launch of a church. New Orleans was still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina and the community had a lot of needs. Matt Wilford started his own project management company, which renovated homes and day cares.
After three years, the Wilfords felt God was calling them back to Jacksonville. It was a hard decision, because moving to New Orleans had been difficult. But, looking back, Matt Wilford thinks Builders Care was the reason.
“The Lord has put a servant’s heart in me, and Builders Care is an organization of servants,” he said. “With the skills the Lord has blessed me with — being a superintendent, owning my own company — all of that combined, put me in a position where it was just the right fit.”
Builders Care was started in 2001 by Bill Wilson and the Northeast Florida Builders Association.
HabiJax, the home building program for needy families, was by policy not able to perform interior repairs to owner-occupied houses. The group asked the builders association for help.
For years Builders Care partnered with HabiJax on Blitz Builds — an event where volunteers spend a week building as many as 100 homes in poor neighborhoods. Builders Care also performed its own projects, building handicap access ramps for disabled home owners, repairing roofs, and renovating community centers.
The group was well known for its good deeds in the community. But, the recession brought its activities to a near standstill.
It’s Wilford’s task to bring the organization back to what it once was.
In 2013, Builders Care partnered with HabiJax on a 25-house Blitz Build. This year in June, the groups are prepared to top that by building 25 homes and renovating 25 others.
Wilford said such goals are reachable, because builders have a huge heart for helping.
“A lot of these guys have come from not a whole lot, and they understand the need to give back,” he said. “I think more so now than before because of the downturn.
“Things were so good for so long, but when the recession hit, it opened people’s eyes to say, wow, this kind of thing really could happen to anybody.”