Their Lives

Repairing one home won’t change the world, but the world will change for that homeowner.

What are you doing for others?

2017 is bringing a lot of change to the world. On the heels of Martin Luther King Day and with planning in motion for Rebuilding Together Alexandria’s most notorious event, National Rebuilding Day (April 29th, 2017), I want to take pause, be mindful, and revel at the everyday volunteers that make our organization a year-round support system for low-income homeowners.

Our “Mod”ification Squad has twenty active volunteers that have taken on almost fifty projects for homeowners. They take on projects independently, set their own schedule, and work on tasks that are of interest to their skill set. From installing grab bars to provide stability for our older homeowners, to fixing small plumbing leaks or electrical issues, they handle it all. Many have been volunteering their time and expertise with us for years, supervising teams of volunteers on National Rebuilding Day or assisting us with special projects year-round.

One Mod Squad member, David, started working with us last summer. His first introduction to our organization was a group project where he and a few other brave volunteers tirelessly pulled up extremely soiled carpet of an elderly homeowner. Not deterred by the work, he has since taken on seven other Mod Squad projects and attended two group projects.

In David’s own words: “After I retired, I spent a month or two sleeping in, going out to breakfast and lunch with friends, and doing honeydoos around my house. Eventually, I decided that I would gradually take on volunteer ‘jobs’ until my plate was full. I looked for two types; those where I would use mainly my mind and those where I was using my hands. I thought Rebuilding Together was a good fit for the ‘hands on’ work. I like that I’m helping people, even in some small way, to keep living independently. Most of my clients are to the stage of their lives that getting on a ladder is just a really bad idea. Many of my tasks they likely did when they were younger but have now lost too much stability and dexterity to complete. It’s interesting hearing about their lives and where they worked; most at the same organization their entire career. One woman wanted to make sure I noticed the license plate on her car that looked a little like a 30s-gangster car. It was personalized plate short for Bonnie & Clyde. While it usually takes me twice as long as estimated to complete every assignment, I don’t think my clients mind and it’s kind of fun for both of us to visit while I work. The biggest surprise has been how much I’ve used my brain. Because these homes are old and built to an older code, it usually takes some time to figure out how to complete the task with modern parts, even if it is as simple as replacing an electrical outlet. I enjoy the tasks and people so much that I’ve been trying to recruit other friends to participate with me. Meet interesting people; no bureaucracy; pick my tasks; set my own schedule; know when the job is done; and use my hands and brain – it’s kind of an ideal job. I volunteer because it’s what we are supposed to do; help each other out.”

So as Martin Luther King Jr. remarked “Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Whether you become part of our volunteer task force or create a group and volunteer on National Rebuilding Day, we will be thrilled you want to join our team and be the reason why a low-income neighbor can focus on paying for food, medicine, and other necessities. We encourage you to sponsor a team, get your hands dirty, and get involved.

All I Want for Christmas…

Dear Santa,

In case you are trying to find me, I wanted to let you know that I’m living in a new home this year. I even have my own bedroom. We don’t have a chimney, but I know you will find a way to come in. Don’t worry, I will leave cookies.

My mom seems so happy this year. We get to play more since we don’t have to spend as much time in the car to get home. Before, mom and I would sing and talk on the long ride home. We still talk and sing; but now that we live closer to her work, I have more time to play outside. I go to the park near my house which has a fun playground.

Anya is my best friend. She lives near me and we go to the playground and bus stop together. I hope that Anya and I can be friends forever.

Ms. Kelly is my teacher this year.  I’m glad I haven’t moved to another school again. Having just one teacher has made it easier for me to learn. My grades are better, too.

I know that you have lots of kids to visit this year, but I hope you can find room in your sleigh for a bike. It doesn’t have to be new or fancy, but Anya and I want to bike to the park. The park was just fixed up!

My mom says that we can stay here for a while since she owns her home now. That way you know where to find me next year too. 

Your friend,

Erica

We serve many “Ericas” throughout the year—children and their parents who want a safe place to call home that is near where they work and part of a community. We know that having affordable housing is good for children, families and the whole community. It creates stronger, more stable neighborhoods and ensures children get better educational opportunities. 

As the New Year approaches, I hope that our generous, diverse, and vibrant Alexandria community can find new ways to come together in support of children like Erica. At Rebuilding Together Alexandria, we look forward to creating new and innovative ways to keep low-income residents housed. Happy holidays! 

 

Homemade Stew

When you walk in the front door there is the familiar smell of a special stew, made with honey, warming on the stove. Sixty-eight-year-old Stan has lived in his home near the Braddock Metro neighborhood his entire life; he was actually born in it. It is the last original home on the street and was originally owned by a local abolitionist. He was raised here along with his four siblings and has raised his own son in the same home. He comments, “We were well bred and well fed.” His favorite place to be is in his kitchen, and as the stew continues to simmer, Stan has his own special pot of stories and history to share with any interested acquaintance.

He recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of graduating from George Washington High School. In 1964, before T.C. Williams was built, he was part of the first fully integrated class. “I, Stan, was the first black to score a touchdown in George Washington stadium.” He was also a star wrestler in high school and is willing to share every last detail of his athletic younger years to anyone willing to listen.

Later on in his life Stan was known as “Stan the Carpet Man” and he will eagerly pull out a portfolio of artistic, geometric carpet designs to demonstrate his work over 37 years. After years of success, times became tough after he suffered a stroke and had to relearn basic tasks. Regardless, Stan remains active and ventures to the library next to Rebuilding Together Alexandria’s office every day to check his email. Stan reached out to Rebuilding Together Alexandria when he had received an application in the mail. The organization was familiar to him as a close neighbor told him about the assistance they had received from us. Stan’s home was one of nearly 40 homes repaired by teams on National Rebuilding Day, April 30. The volunteer team replaced the roof on his shed, installed a storm door, installed a new bathroom faucet, removed brush from his yard, and many more needed repairs. The connections he made with the team were ever lasting. Volunteers continue to come every few weeks to help Stan with yard work. Stan wrote in a thank you note that the lead volunteer was, “… the quarterback of the group and demonstrated all the qualities of leadership in which validates females as leaders. Her grasp of logistics and mixing amateurs with professionals was a work of art.”

During every pause in the conversation and when you leave his home, Stan will ask you about eating some of that stew. If you do not have some there, you will surely leave with a container in your hand to enjoy for lunch. Do you know neighbor like Stan who could benefit from our services? We encourage you to introduce them to us. 

 

Truth or Dare!

Originally from Raleigh, N.C., Rebecca* was in Alexandria visiting a friend in the ‘60s. While the two girls were out on the town one evening, her friend dared her to ask out a member of the band that was playing in the club. Rebecca accepted the dare. That band member became her husband and Alexandria became her new home.

Rebecca recalls that the city was so quiet when she and Henry first moved in, even on Abingdon Drive where they would watch the planes go over the Potomac. Eventually, they moved into a home on Cambridge Road and raised three children, while Henry worked at the nearby Duke Street Post Office.

And though her husband is no longer alive, spunky 79-year-old Rebecca and her two dogs remain in the home and in the city she has come to love. “I like the way they are painting the electrical boxes on Duke Street with all kinds of designs. It is something the city should consider doing all over,” she said. She still hosts family get togethers with her children and four grandchildren but has not been able to take care of her home maintenance issues like Henry did.

But Rebecca isn’t known to ask for help for herself. She is known to help others … she watches her neighbors’ dogs, accompanies her close friends to their medical visits, and has even inquired about how to donate her late husband’s walker so someone else can use it. But when she received an application from us in the mail for free home repair services, she agreed to seek help.

This summer, Rebuilding Together Alexandria arranged help for Rebecca’s home from Lowe’s employees of four separate stores in the DMV area. The Lowe’s volunteers were eager to take on the largest safety hazard for Rebecca, her visitors, and her beloved dogs: the back porch. The structure was deteriorated, pulling away from the house, and had several severely rotted boards. The Lowe’s team brought a truck of wood and quickly went to work replacing the boards and stabilizing Rebecca’s porch. Along with an improved porch, interior cracks from an earthquake were patched and painted, new interior and exterior doors were installed, and most important to Rebecca was the installation of a handrail leading to her basement, which houses her washer and dryer.

With all the safety improvements, Rebecca, with her pink flower ankle tattoo that reminds her of how she stayed positive through three bouts of breast cancer, enjoys her home, neighbors, and community again. If you know someone like Rebecca who could benefit from our services, we encourage you to introduce them to us. 

* It is Rebuilding Together Alexandria’s policy to not disclose full names

 

Spreading Love and Lifts

Carole’s father suffered from a neuromuscular disease and was living alone in his three-story Alexandria home. After a fall last July, Carole and her brother decided that the home was not a safe setting for him anymore and reached out to Rebuilding Together Alexandria to donate four stair lifts that had been installed in her father’s home over the years. Carole worked for the City of Alexandria for 30-plus years and was very familiar with the services that Rebuilding Together offers low-income residents.

Several Rebuilding Together homeowners are elderly and have mobility issues, and as a non-profit that keeps people in safe and healthy homes for as long as possible, we were eager to provide these stair lifts to others we serve. We worked with Carole and Area Access Inc., which specializes in health transportation products, to disassemble the stair lifts and install them in the homes of four in-need Alexandria residents.

One of the new owners of a donated stair lift had originally requested the lift for her disabled husband so he would be able to get up and down the stairs. Her own arthritis worsened to the point where she was walking with a cane and also needed to use the stair lift. Thanks to the installed lift, now they can both move about their home safely and more easily.

Just one donation or one volunteer day served may not change the world but the world will certainly change for that homeowner. As Carole stated, “We are so pleased we were able to assist four low-income homeowners in Alexandria. We have lived in Alexandria since 1951 and it is good to know there are organizations in the city that can assist not only those who have items to donate but also those who need the assistance.”

Whether you would like to become a proud donor like Carole or spend an afternoon lending a hand and hammer, please introduce yourselves to us. When our donors, volunteers, and homeowners come together they learn, laugh, and create a stronger, more vibrant community.

* It is Rebuilding Together Alexandria’s policy to not disclose full names

 

Making Lemonade

With a homemade lemonade stand adorning the front yard and the basement playroom walls painted with green rolling hills and blue skies, it is evident that Ariel wants her three young children to grow up having a memorable and safe childhood. Ariel purchased the home she grew up in from her parents in 2014, when her parents moved only half a block away.

Ariel loves the Alexandria area and hopes to stay here for as long as possible. She feels safe in her neighborhood close to Holmes Run, “A lot of people here are community oriented.” During the snow storm in January, Ariel’s neighbors helped dig out her parent’s home. She is also active in the community, attending farmers markets and enhancing play spaces for her children and the community.

That’s the dream for many Americans: to improve their lives through homeownership. We celebrate homeownership every June during National Homeownership Month. That’s because owning a home is an investment, with homeowners accumulating significantly more net household wealth than renters, according to the National Association of Realtors.

But it’s so much more. Fewer moves mean kids can go to the same schools, grow friendships, and participate in local activities. It also means knowing neighbors’ names, block parties, shared memories, and neighbors helping neighbors. Nothing stabilizes a community more than being invested in a home and the lives of those around you.

Here in Alexandria about half of our residents are homeowners. Not all of these homeowners can maintain their homes as well as they’d like, so at Rebuilding Together Alexandria, we focus on helping our city’s struggling homeowners by providing free home repairs. That’s how we met Ariel.

During a recent service appointment for the heating system, Ariel’s furnace was “red tagged” and considered inoperable. Not sure where to turn on a tight budget, Ariel remembered a pamphlet she had picked up about Rebuilding Together. We replaced her furnace within days. Since then, a team of volunteers replaced an old CO2/smoke alarm, installed a GFCI outlet in the kitchen, reaffixed an outside railing, installed a French drain in the backyard to keep it dry, and fixed a bathroom door threshold.

For Rebuilding Together Alexandria, we are proud supporters of homeownership year round because creating a vibrant community where people of all income groups and cultures live in safe and healthy homes is the ultimate benefit of homeownership. If you know someone like Ariel who could benefit from our services, we encourage you to introduce them to us.

* It is Rebuilding Together Alexandria’s policy to not disclose full names

We Thank Our Key Partners!

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