FEATURING REBUILDING TOGETHER
story by DAWN KLAVON
photography courtesy of REBUILDING TOGETHER DC ALEXANDRIA
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Andrew and Kim Moten live on a fixed income in Alexandria. Their home repair needs were piling up, but they did not have the budget to make those repairs. That is, until Rebuilding Together DC • Alexandria stepped in. Last December, the local nonprofit installed a lift on the stairs (Kim, 64, is physically disabled and spends most of her time on one floor of her house since she cannot go up and down steps easily), replaced the refrigerator, cleaned out the basement, gave them new windows and fixed the plumbing — all free of charge.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” Kim Moten says. “I couldn’t afford it.”
Rebuilding Together DC • Alexandria is a grassroots movement to restore lives and revitalize communities by repairing homes, according to Director of Development Brandon Swain. The organization rejuvenates neighborhoods in Alexandria and Washington, DC by maintaining housing for low-income homeowners and providing critical home repairs that eliminate health and safety hazards.
“We will fix anything that needs to be fixed,” says Swain. “People are so grateful because for so long, it’s like they felt like they were invisible or just didn’t have the financial support to do anything about it.”
Rebuilding Together focuses on stabilizing 25 specific items that the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) found to drastically improve living conditions for a home’s residents, with a particular focus on low-income persons living in older and/or substandard housing who are disproportionately affected by home hazards. Volunteers work throughout the year on home safety, accessibility modifications and fire and carbon monoxide safety prevention improvements.
The nonprofit’s data confirms improvement in communities. Rebuilding Together's clients met only 68% of the recommended items on the NCHH list before repairs, but after Rebuilding Together made repairs and upgrades, 86% of the items that contribute to a safe and healthy home were completed.
“I want to say thank you. I don’t know what I would have done without them,” says Moten.
Schools and Civic Group Revitalization
Rebuilding Together also provides modifications and upgrades to schools, parks and other common spaces in underserved neighborhoods.
The organization’s Community Strong program upgrades or renovates these areas. Activities include building greenhouses and vegetable gardens, installing benches and tables, creating walkways, planting greenery, installing play areas and much more.
The efforts bring positive results, according to organization officials. Children have safer areas to play, neighbors have gardens to grow their own food, seniors have social connection spaces and safe facilities to attend and whole neighborhoods have been revitalized.
Simon Elementary School, in Washington, DC, held a revitalization day in May; a perfect example of the valuable work done by Rebuilding Together. Over 50 volunteers from Cushman and Wakefield real estate services joined forces with Rebuilding Together to make sure the DC school’s gardens were tended to, railings and curbs were given a fresh coat of paint and blacktop was painted with a map of the United States.
“It’s one thing to say education is important; it’s another thing when a kid walks into a school and they feel that where they are going is important, where they’re going matters,” says Swain. “When they see that their school has been brightened up and repainted and everything, they’re more engaged.”
Fixing Homes, Building Community
Rebuilding Together addresses home repair and maintenance issues that potentially present an immediate safety or health risk to local homeowners, thereby preventing unnecessary illness, disease and perhaps even death. The recipients can’t say enough about how much they appreciate the help.
“I’m just overwhelmed. The volunteers, they were wonderful,” says Moten. “When they came here, they did some work in my basement; they cleaned out the basement for me — they cleaned it out! It was just a mess and they came and they cleaned out everything.”
A Home of Your Own • Alexandria
Rebuilding Together’s Home of Your Own program provides first-time buyers with an opportunity to become homeowners. The organization acquires foreclosed properties, renovates them using volunteer and skilled tradespeople and sells the units to low- and moderate-income City of Alexandria residents and workers with greatly discounted and subsidized funding. Based on four recent acquisitions, buyers were able to decrease their housing costs by $350/month, according to their website. For additional information regarding qualifying criteria, please call the Office of Housing at 703.746.4990 or visit the Office of Housing’s website at www.alexandriava.gov/housing.
Volunteers and Sponsors
Individuals and organizations are needed to volunteer and sponsor services performed by Rebuilding Together. The organization’s website encourages individuals and companies to "adopt" a home, providing critical repairs necessary to the home. Rebuilding Together also collaborates and communicates with other local nonprofits and civic organizations to find recipients for their services.
“We so desperately need our volunteers and we so desperately need our sponsors,” Swain says. “We know we don’t have enough people to help everyone who needs assistance. The more sponsors we have, the more volunteers we have, the more we can do.”
Swain says volunteers don’t need to have a background in construction to be a part. There are numerous tasks to do that don’t require specialized training. “We have all the tools, all the supplies, everything ready to go so that all you have to do is show up and go to work,” Swain says.
In addition, Rebuilding Together also jumps at the opportunity to partner with skilled craftspeople, whether they be plumbers, carpenters, roofers or other tradespeople.
Many companies find volunteering with Rebuilding Together is a wonderful opportunity for team building. Companies are encouraged to recruit a group of employees to complete a single-day volunteer project, taking place either in Washington, DC or Alexandria. The event would include repair tasks at the house of a homeowner in need or a community space (such as a park or school) in an underserved neighborhood. An exclusive project day is a great way to provide immediate, tangible assistance to homeowners and communities in need.
Financial support is also greatly appreciated. It goes a long way in helping needy residents. All monetary and in-kind donations are tax-deductible as provided by law and go directly to Rebuilding Together DC • Alexandria.
Also, gift cards can help. Because Rebuilding Together purchases all the supplies and materials needed for repair services, they will gladly accept gift cards.
An Uphill Battle
The organization, despite best efforts, sometimes cannot meet the needs of the community.
“When you’re assisting individuals, it can feel sometimes like you’re emptying a lake with a plastic cup,” Swain says. “It can feel like there are so many people that need help and assistance, particularly in an area like ours that's changing rapidly with a lot of people in need of assistance. And gentrification occurs at such a rapid pace that they opt to simply sell.”
For now, Rebuilding Together will continue to reach as many residents as possible, repairing, restoring and revitalizing. Swain says the organization is a win-win for both the recipients and the volunteers.
“You always see the smiles on the faces of the people we serve. You can see it in their eyes,” Swain says. “I tell every volunteer, there’s never a doubt that we’re making a difference.”