Home & Garden Columns

About the House: Rebuilding Together Needs You

By Matt Cantor
Friday March 28, 2008

I don’t know about you but I’m a person that’s very expert at feeling sorry for myself. If it’s not done my way, I’m grouchy. If they didn’t know what I wanted or anticipated how I was going to respond, I feel slighted. I’m not proud of it but that’s just the kind of gigantic baby I am. Waaaa. That’s why I volunteer. 

I don’t volunteer in order to set the world aright. The world can probably get along fine without me. No, I do it for myself. Volunteering, especially when I choose the right venue has the capacity to take me out of the “Poor Me”s faster than pretty much anything I can think of. So when I talk about Rebuilding Together (a.k.a. Christmas in April), understand that I don’t want you to help them … I want you to let them help you.  

I first encountered Christmas in April (now Rebuilding Together) in the winter of 1993 as a much younger general contractor and a person used to facing struggles alone. The model that they employed was something I really needed to learn and still need much reminding of that many hands make light work. 

The leadership of our own local Rebuilding Together—Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville (RTABE), including Executive Director June Lee at the helm, takes responsibility for figuring out who needs help on their home (that’s what they do), what will be done (painting, flooring, roofing) and who can get it done (you). 

Helping out with RT doesn’t require any building skills but you’ll gain some if you show up. Teams are built around a “House Captain” who organizes a body of work for a deserving homeowner (usually elderly, disabled or lacking the means to adequately care for their environs). If you volunteer, you’ll be assigned to a house captain who will show you how to paint a room or to lay a vinyl floor.  

You’ll never be asked to do a job that’s beyond your comfort zone but you can choose to work with someone (or several someones) more skilled than yourself to your own educational benefit. For many of us, tackling something new is less about the specific data involved than the sheer drop, the act of doing something completely new. Installing a handrail with a couple of trained volunteers is a great way to break through the fear and discover that, yes, you can do home repairs too. 

If you have more skill, RT is a great way to share those skills while meeting new people and just having fun. You can get plenty of help from lesser skilled people to do what you might normally do alone and there are very specific time and money constraints so you don’t have to worry about getting sucked into the Contractor Vortex of Eternal Malaise (and yes, I do have the T-shirt, thank you very much). 

Instead, the RT experience can be one in which you meet new people, share some laughs and experience the good feeling that comes from helping someone that could never afford what you normally purvey and a lot of these people are audibly and visibly grateful. 

If you know nothing at all about construction and never want to feel the thrill of a paint brush or hammer in your hand, you can still join a band of similarly comported brethren (& sistren) hauling the junk out of someone’s backyard or garage. Who knows, you may go home inspired to do the same with your own excess junk. 

While RT can use you for planning over the next few weeks, the main event is actually One Day. And now, you say “Hey, I can do One Day” and then you call June and tell her (or one of the other cool people over at RTABE) that you’re good for one day and you’ll take an X-LG for your shirt (we all get neat shirts because we’re a team!). 

You know, I can’t guarantee that you’ll learn how to build a deck in one day (that’s probably not going to happen) or how to paint like a pro , but I can make a promise that for one day, you’re far less likely to think about how cruddy your circumstances are. How rotten it is that your Volvo makes that noise, that your kids won’t finish their homework or that your portfolio is down.  

A day spent helping someone who can’t walk, who’s house is in really bad shape or who doesn’t have the money to buy a light bulbs might be just the medicine you need to come home and say “Wow, I have it good.” (by the way, bring your kids. They might end up feeling that way too). 

April Rebuild Day is the 26th of the month, the last Saturday in April. There are also Prep Workday’s on the 12th and 19th if these work better for you, or if you just need more cheering up! 

Eric Hoffer said “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” I don’t think I agree. Seems to me that it’s a one to one relationship. One day spent in pursuit of another’s betterment is one day in which yours is assured. 

Hope you see you all there. 


Rebuilding Together—Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville Executive Director June Lee. She or her staff can be reached at 644-8979.