Community helps nonprofits rebuild together

By Diwata Fonte Special to the Daily Planet
Monday April 30, 2001

Nine community organizations and 29 households saved about $500,000 when 1,500 local volunteers completed a flurry of building repairs last Saturday. 

A non-profit organization, Rebuilding Together, held its big workday “Christmas in April” to help elderly, disabled and low-income residents live independently and safely.  

The volunteers throughout Berkeley finished a variety of improvements such as creating windows, landscaping, fixing electrical wires and dealing with wasp nests.  

Some particularly timely improvements came from an ally organization called Positive Energy, which makes energy-efficient changes. They sent “Energy Teams” to each rebuilding site with the goal of saving at least $100 a year for each household. Some of their jobs included pipe insulation, installing water heater blankets and weather-stripping. 

“Not only is this a great community-building effort,” said Marty Lynch, executive director of LifeLong Medical Care, a non-profit group that serves low-income patients without insurance. “In our case, this lets us put our money into doctors and pharmaceuticals instead of into pulling weeds.” 

These exterior improvements are important to their on-site community clinic whose services may be judged by a weedy front lawn or broken doors.  

Neighborhood revitalization is one of the goals for the Rebuilding Together, said Executive Director Jill Davis. Fixing up houses combats the deterioration of low-income neighborhoods, a problem that plagues the country, she said. 

However, making modifications that increase the health, safety, and independence of its clients is the organization's most important goal.  

One resident, Sherleen Brown, 41, had the kind of situation that appealed to Rebuilding Together’s mission. Brown lives in a two-story Berkeley house with her mother, who has Alzheimer's Disease, and her sister, who has Multiple Sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair.  

Before the 60 Rebuilding Together volunteers came and went, she had a wooden ramp that was soft and rotting. Now, it’s been reinforced with concrete so she can trust it with her sister. 

“I really appreciate the work that’s being done, that everyone lends a hand and volunteered their time,” she said. 

Volunteers also repainted her house, put in grab bars and linoleum floors, and fixed her plumbing so that they could have hot water again, even though she did not ask for any of those improvements.  

Since 1991, the Berkeley-Albany-Emeryville chapter has rehabilitated 268 homes and over 63 community facilities. It is part of the national organization that has been around since 1973.  

With the organization’s standing and success, the public support seems to be getting stronger. 

“We had the mayor [of Berkeley] doing errands and the chief of police doing carpentry,” said Davis. “We had great public support. Nobody wants to see [our clientele] lose their independence or be unsafe in their home.” 

Last April 2000, volunteers completed about $84 million worth of work nationwide.  

In Berkeley, Davis said that many interested individuals volunteered. Many more came from a variety of different organizations.  

At Brown's house, for example, the Berkeley Fire Department teamed up with Fantasy Records, an independent jazz record label, and Pi Kappa Phi, a fraternity from the University of California, Berkeley. 

Many businesses or groups “adopt” houses by donating $3,000, the average cost of material and program expenses. Other funding comes from charitable foundations or smaller. 

This year, Rebuilding Together received a record-breaking amount of corporate donations and participation, according to Davis.