Rebuilding Together gives peace of mind to homeowners
- By Marge Neal -
Vietnam veteran John Kaiser is struggling to keep up with repairs needed on his Dundalk home that has been in the family for at least three generations.
The problems in the house just kept piling up: a clogged drain that had all but put a stop to water use, a porch roof that was tilted and in danger of collapse, plumbing leaks in the kitchen and a back porch that was in bad need of replacement.
On Saturday, May 19, Kaiser looked on in amazement as a crew of Rebuilding Together Baltimore volunteers swept through his Dunbar Road home, making quick work of repairs he would not otherwise have been able to afford.
“It really means a lot to me,” the humble, soft-spoken man said as workers cut a hole in a piece of drywall to fit over a light fixture in a ceiling. “This is really something.”
Workers from Improvement Zone were among the volunteers whipping Kaiser’s house into shape. Owner Nick Neboshynsky described his company as a disabled veteran business and said he always likes to request the assignment of a veteran’s home.
“It makes it more special to me,” he said. “It gives me that connection.”
Noting that the clogged drain was the most vital and urgent need, a contractor was hired to fix the problem the week before the Rebuilding Together blitz, according to Bonnie Bessor, executive director of Baltimore’s chapter of the national organization.
“John essentially couldn’t use the water; couldn’t flush the toilet,” Bessor said of the plumbing problem. “So we had a contractor come in last week and that’s all taken care of.”
Kaiser, who served in the Army from 1971-74 and was deployed to Vietnam, just smiled at the work taking place in his home.
“It really means the world to me,” he said. “I was thinking I was going to have to find someplace else to stay and this changes everything.”
On Fairgreen Road, Shirley Chavis had the same look of appreciation on her face as a crew of volunteers from Booz Allen Hamilton was busy preparing her living room floor for a new covering.
Chavis, the co-owner of the house, along with her significant other, Mark Phoebus, said the crew had already put down a new wood laminate floor in the dining room and other volunteers were busy repairing a roof leak and fixing the ceiling that had been damaged as a result of the leak.
Three generations live in the home, with Chavis’ granddaughter and her two children completing the extended family.
Chavis has several health issues, including diabetes and balance issues, and Phoebus has been disabled since 2001. As a result, money is tight and they cannot do any heavy work themselves, according to Phoebus, also a military veteran.
“This is a big, big relief,” Chavis said. “So much came off my mind - these guys are awesome.”
Before the end of the day, the house would also have all new window screens, new smoke detectors and a new bathroom fan.
In addition to the “deep dive” repairs on four homes in the Dun-Logan community, all homeowners, regardless of income, were invited to take advantage of smaller offerings, including front and rear address markers, downspout extensions, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and energy-efficient light bulbs for porch lights, according to Bessor.
“We’re a ‘safe and healthy housing’ organization,” Bessor said. “Installing items that help keep residents safe and healthy in their homes is a big part of our mission.”
Hand railings and safety bars in bathrooms are among the staples provided by the organization.
Dundalk’s American Legion Post 38, of which Phoebus and Kaiser are members, offered its covered patio to the group to use as its headquarters for the day. The shelter came in handy as volunteers faced a rainy day to perform their benevolent tasks.
As a result, the Post received some volunteer help. Crews cleaned and replanted flower beds around the building, while other volunteers transformed a group of mismatched picnic tables into a uniform collection of red, white and blue gathering spots.
“We’re going to have to come back and do another coat because the paint didn’t dry fast enough in the rain,” Bessor said. “But that’s no big deal, and we’re also going to paint the stage.”
Baltimore County government provided dump trucks which picked up not only construction debris but also clutter, old furniture and other items the homeowners wanted to get rid of, Bessor said.
Over a short lunch break, Bessor pointed out various volunteers who return year after year because the mission means so much to them.
“We even have a former intern who came back to volunteer ,” Bessor said. “She just graduated yesterday with her master’s degree in social work and she could have slept in, but instead she’s here at 8 in the morning, in the pouring rain, ready to work.”
She mentioned another volunteer who first got involved because there was “strong encouragement” at work to participate, and 30 years later, she’s still volunteering on her own simply because she enjoys it.
Each year, Rebuilding Together completes about 10,000 home rebuild projects across the country, according to organization literature. Two out of every three projects help keep older adults in their homes. The repairs give homeowners peace of mind, enable them to age in place and create safer living environments with safety equipment that reduces the number of debilitating falls.
And Chavis considers herself lucky to be the beneficiary of those efforts.
“This sure has made my life a lot happier,” she said as she sat at her dining room table, surrounded by a new wood floor and space opened up by the purging of some clutter. “It’s just taken a lot off my mind and it means the world to us.”