When I was growing up, family, friends and neighbors helped each other build fences, repair roofs and replumb bathrooms. Today, many families are geographically dispersed, our Facebook friends don’t care where we live and we’re lucky if we know our neighbors’ names.
So what happens these days when your toilet doesn’t flush, your refrigerator won’t cool and your front and back doors won’t lock? And you can’t fix them yourself? And you survive on less than $16,000 a year? Simple. The repairs don’t get done, so you sometimes aren’t happy or safe in your own home.
Rebuilding Together South Sound (RTSS) doesn’t like that, which is why they improve the safety and lives of homeowners in need by coordinating volunteer repair teams who make home modifications and emergency repairs in Pierce County, Federal Way and Auburn. The majority who receive these services are elderly, disabled or without family who can help and living on an average monthly income of $1,275.
RTSS is an affiliate of the national Rebuilding Together organization. That effort started in 1973 with a small group of people in Midland, Texas, who recognized their neighbors couldn’t afford to make their needed home repairs. During April, the group volunteered their time and skills to rehabilitate those homes. The group then formed Christmas in April, which went national in 1988 and was renamed Rebuilding Together in 2000.
In 2001, RTSS became one of the national affiliates. They started with a volunteer board that has morphed into a small full-time staff. The organization survives on donations and volunteers. Volunteers come from labor unions, the Master Builders Association Remodeler’s Council, churches, sponsorship groups, the Bates and Clover Park skilled trades programs, and word of mouth.
As they should be, RTSS is proud of how they build safe communities. Program Director Hanna Hill says, “I love explaining what we do. We keep vulnerable people in their existing homes and improve their health and safety at no cost to the homeowner.”
Development and Communications Manager Mary Brickle says, “I’m proud that our work not only restores pride and independence, but addresses the affordable housing crisis by keeping existing homes safe and healthy.”
Rebuilding Day is their largest annual volunteer event. It occurs on the last Saturday in April to celebrate the national organization’s founding concept. Business sponsors and community volunteers come together to make repairs for 25 homeowners in need. Health and safety repairs are the priority. Wheelchair ramps, walk-in or roll-in showers, hand rails, grab bars, comfort height toilets, removal of trip hazards, door widening, and lever door handles are common repairs.
Patriot Fire Protection Rebuilding Day Event
On Saturday, April 29, I had the chance to experience Rebuilding Day by participating in the project sponsored by Patriot Fire Protection. Our day started with the standard safety discussion. Wear your gloves, safety glasses and ear plugs. Don’t wear flip flops while you’re weed whacking.
Our homeowner Donna Fulk has lived in her home since 2004. Her parents are gone. Most of her family lives in another state. Her knees were replaced two years ago so she’s not able to repair much on her own. Her project included exterior painting, yard work, and repairing the front and back decks, railings and steps.
Joe Storm/House Captain/JK’s Contracting owner has participated in Rebuilding Day for many years. His most rewarding project so far was remodeling a bathroom for a blind-from-birth grandmother caring for her quadriplegic grandson. The electric gurney in the bathroom was a life changer for them.
Joe’s Rebuilding Day survival tip is “Steer clear of scope creep. Don’t remodel the entire kitchen when you were just supposed to replace the floor. And hope that it doesn’t rain. Volunteers leave early when it rains.”
Joe and Patriot Fire Protection are steadfast Rebuilding Day partners. “They used to give me bankers,” says Joe. “But I need construction skills too. I ask for Patriot.”
Patriot became involved in Rebuilding Together when Donna Boulanger, wife of President Jim Boulanger, couldn’t say no to a friend who was one of RTSS’s founding members. Patriot’s Evan Boulanger (son of Jim and Donna) has attended Rebuilding Day events for the past 15 years. He’s done everything from clean out shipping containers to replace windows with the Patriot team – and is the 2016 Volunteer Coordinator award recipient.
What does Evan enjoy most about Rebuilding Day? “It’s impressive to see people from different backgrounds give up their Saturday and pull together to help someone they don’t even know,” says Evan. “Plus, I enjoy the after pictures.” I think he’ll be seeing plenty more of those after pics. His wife Lauren is on the board.
For more information, visit Rebuilding Together South Sound.