The elderly caller to the radio program felt embarrassed–almost guilty–because her long list of household repair items seemed to be growing larger by the day.

“Don’t even think twice about it,” said John Thuma, Northwest executive director of Rebuilding Together, a chapterof the nation’s largest volunteer organization preserving and revitalizing low-income houses and communities. “You are absolutely the type of person we are hoping to help.”

Thuma, along with other affiliate leaders throughout the nation, are now processing applications for National Rebuilding Day, April 24.

Rebuilding Together (formerly known as Christmas in April) performs home repair and maintenance services at no charge for low-income homeowners and non-profit facilities. The organization stretches to reach the elderly, disabled and families with children in an attempt to help them remain warm, safe and independent in their homes.

Sponsors of the project range from small builders to Hollywood celebrities. Present and past National Football League players have become involved with Rebuilding Together in their respective cities. Paul Tagliabue, the NFL commissioner, and his wife, Chandler, are longtime volunteers and supporters of the program.

“We are encouraging all folks who need help to let us know you are out there,” Thuma said. “A lot of times seniors are afraid to ask for help. It’s better to install a few grab bars before an accident occurs, or fix a few electrical outlets before they become a problem.”

Last year, more than 250,000 volunteers from 270 affiliates worked on more than 8,000 homes and non-profit facilities providing more than $84 million in improvements. Since the program began, 87,450 homes have been rehabilitated with the help of more than 2.3 million volunteers.

“We can see that there is a critical need for these services. The statistics are alarming,” said Patricia Riley Johnson, Rebuilding Together’s national president and CEO. “Sixty percent of the of deaths of people over the age of 65 are the result of a fall in the home. Each year, more than 11 million senior citizens fall–that’s one out of every three people over 65.”

The injuries are also expensive to treat. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, treatment of the injuries and complications associated with falls costs more than $20.2 billion a year. Rebuilding Together’s 245 affiliates and the surgeons’ American Academy recently launched a series of workshops and technical assistance sessions to explore the growing need for home modifications as the nation’s population ages.

Rebuilding Together relies on donations of cash, labor and materials from businesses and community groups before molding its schedule of projects. The organization originally scheduled just one annual rebuilding day, but extra assistance from companies like Home Depot and Bank of America now allows for a year-round operation that includes a fall rebuilding day and Project Homefront, a special program to help military families repair and maintain their homes while a family member is deployed.

While some community volunteers have extraordinary skills, the construction industry’s skilled trade professionals–plumbers, electricians, iron workers, glaziers and roofers–not only save time with their expertise but they also get excited about being part of the program.

“Rebuilding Together is about bringing communities together,” Thuma said. “Our volunteers work with less-advantaged homeowners and community groups to make neighborhoods safer, cleaner and more vibrant places to live. We do more than fix houses–we help rebuild lives. That’s what makes everybody who contributes so excited.”

Ten years ago, I watched a Rebuilding Together team complete a dream come true for Seattle’s Mary Edith Goodall, then 98. All she wanted was a stack-style washer and dryer and freshly painted rooms in her Craftsman home.

“Well, I got all that and more,” Goodall said that day. “They painted my house inside and out and just about gave me a whole new bathroom.

“They did all of this on one Saturday in April.”

(For further information and a list of regional affiliates, telephone 1-800-4REHAB9.)

Tom Kelly, former real estate editor for The Seattle Times, is a syndicated columnist and talk show host. Send questions and comments to news@tomkelly.com.

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