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Restoring hope, one home and one block at a time

April 15, 2013

Theodus Lurry says that for years he made do with a saggy kitchen floor and a long-outdated electrical system. To make needed repairs to his Mantua home, he would need money, energy and help – things he felt were in short supply given his old age and fixed income. “Times are tough. Times are tough all over,” he said. He did his best, yet he thought the world had passed him by.

That’s a feeling shared by many low-income homeowners in Mantua and in working class neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Their houses continue to age, while real wages stagnate and out-of-pocket expenses increase. Older residents find it especially difficult to afford home repairs on a fixed income. In addition, many residents have been taken advantage of, paying contractors only to find out later about severe damage due to unfinished or inadequate repairs. It’s understandable why people lose hope.

"I am overjoyed," said Lurry. "For the volunteers to come in and help makes me happy." Lurry was one of twenty-one homeowners on Olive Street to receive critical home repairs from Rebuilding Together at their block build in March.

“I am overjoyed,” said Lurry. “For the volunteers to come in and help makes me happy.” Lurry was one of twenty-one homeowners on Olive Street to receive critical home repairs from Rebuilding Together at their block build in March.

“We have a lot of older neighbors. Trying to keep their houses up is really difficult,” said Regina Collins, who lives across the street from Lurry on the 3800 Block of Olive Street.  Collins paid for a new roof a few years ago, but leaks that were never repaired eventually caused damage to her kitchen walls and floors. Rebuilding Together provided her with a new roof and volunteers helped Collins begin to rebuild her kitchen.

Regina Collins, who lives across the street from Lurry on the 3800 Block of Olive Street, paid for a new roof a few years ago, but leaks that were never repaired eventually caused damage to her kitchen walls and floors. Rebuilding Together provided her with a new roof and volunteers helped Collins begin to rebuild her kitchen.

In the face of these difficulties, a small but steadily growing number of homeowners are finding some support from Rebuilding Together Philadelphia. Rebuilding Together coordinates volunteers and skilled contractors to provide no-cost critical repairs that make homes warmer, safer, drier, and more energy efficient. To magnify their impact, they work with multiple homeowners on a block.

Thanks to a grant from LISC, Rebuilding Together was able to work with Lurry, Collins, and nineteen other neighbors on the 3800 block of Olive Street in March. “Had they not come, some of the things we did, which I needed badly, I would not have gotten done in the near future,” says Lurry. A volunteer team helped Lurry install a new electric box; clean up some wires, outlets, and switches; put up new kitchen cabinets; redo the kitchen floor and subfloor; fix a bathtub leak; and paint his walls.

Replacing one section of floor began with removing the old subfloor.

Replacing one section of Lurry’s kitchen floor began with removing the old subfloor.

It wasn’t just these repairs that made a difference in Lurry’s life – it was the relationships. “When you’re down and don’t have anything and somebody comes and gives you something, it makes you feel a little bit better,” said Lurry. “And then you say, ‘Oh wow I got this now, and I can do this and do that.”

Going above and beyond what they were asked to do, Lurry’s volunteer team showed him a measure of generosity he was unaware existed. They brought him a fruit basket and cooked pretzels, and helped him tidy his basement. They brought him a new couch, shelf rack, stove, and chairs to make his home more comfortable. “To have 30 people that you don’t know come and help you, and all they want is to help you improve your life, it has to mean something,” he said.

Lurry's kitchen before.

Lurry’s kitchen before.

Theodus Lurry shows off his new kitchen cabinets and floor.

Theodus Lurry shows off his new kitchen cabinets and floor.

During block builds like the one on Olive Street, Rebuilding Together asks homeowners to work alongside volunteers – in their own home, helping their neighbors, and along the block. In this way, Rebuilding strives to establish an equal partnership, empowering residents to improve their lives and give back to their neighborhood, while providing the support they need to be successful.

Block builds also strengthen relationships on a block, encouraging a positive and can-do approach to addressing problems and needs. “A lot of neighbors came together, people that haven’t really worked together before,” said Collins. “You saw people coming outside smiling and really enjoying it and getting together and helping each other out.”

Rebuilding Together volunteers helped neighbors clean up vacant lots on the block. “This is a nice block," said Lurry. "It is community – it really is.”

Rebuilding Together volunteers helped neighbors clean up vacant lots on the block. “This is a nice block,” said Lurry. “It is community – it really is.”

Residents enjoy the newly cleaned vacant lot on the corner. The lot is seen as an asset thanks to the maintenance PHS provides.

Residents enjoy the newly cleaned vacant lot on the corner, one of the many lots maintained by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

The collaborative effort paid off not only for homeowners, but for the whole neighborhood. Neighbors and volunteers cleaned up vacant lots on the block which before were a nuisance.

“Our block is totally different now,” said Collins.

This is just the beginning for 3800 Olive Street, said Lurry and Collins. There’s much more work to do, and it may take awhile, but working together, an organized group of people can accomplish anything.

Rebuilding Together volunteers.

Rebuilding Together volunteers.

Volunteers from Mantua also came out to support their neighbors.

Volunteers from Mantua also came out to support their neighbors.

A testament to the genuine impact of the block builds, many of last year’s homeowners still volunteer with Rebuilding Together. In fact, a few came to help their neighbors on Olive Street.  “Just like they come and help me, I’ll try to help the next person,” said Lurry.

“The program made me want to volunteer,” said Collins. “It made me happy, and I know it could make someone else happy.”

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