By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)
One of the largest nationwide days of community service approaches, as National Rebuilding Day is set for April 30. It is led in Alexandria by Rebuilding Together Alexandria, the Port City’s branch of Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit that looks to preserve affordable housing.
In the city, officials with the local nonprofit said they expect more than 800 volunteers to spread out across the city to provide free repairs and upgrades to 60 low-income homeowners. Around 10,000 volunteers get involved with the program across the country. Homeowners are from a wide cross-section of backgrounds, including the elderly, disabled and military veterans.
Rebuilding Together Alexandria president Katharine Dixon said most of the organization’s clients in Alexandria are over the age of 66, and between 10 to 15 percent are veterans and their families. Dixon said volunteers have plenty of tasks to keep them busy.
“Our volunteers will be doing everything from minor roof patching to dry wall repair to installing handrails and extra lights to make homes safer and — in theory — healthier for the low-income clients who live in these homes,” she said.
Homeowners can apply for Rebuilding Together Alexandria’s services, which then carries out a home visit to match up homeowners’ needs with the skill sets of volunteer teams. Dixon said it is an effort that goes far beyond just the one national day, especially if some needs are pressing and require more urgent fixes.
“Some clients, if we see them in November and their roof is leaking, we immediately send out a roof contractor, because obviously that repair cannot wait until we have a volunteer team,” she said. “But other repairs, we can maybe do a house visit in January and we can wait until April when we can send a team of 10 to 20 volunteers out to make those repairs.”
Dixon said that the organization’s work is primarily focused in Old Town, the north end of the city and the West End. While there are scattered sites in other areas, Dixon said that homeowners in areas of Old Town and on the West End have often been in their houses for a long time and their incomes may not have kept up with the cost of living.
“Our clients do qualify as low-income homeowners, so they make very limited funds,”
Dixon said. “Most of them are past the age of 66, so they’re not working anymore and so many have been in their homes for 30, 40 or 50 years. It’s really I guess where they were originally able to afford to purchase their home. Certainly on the West End where there are many condo buildings, we are seeing an increase in families in need of help out there.
“It’s easier for our low-income population to buy a condo, but they can’t afford to buy a single-family home here in the city.”
The day itself kicks off at 8 a.m. at First Baptist Church on 2932 King St., with volunteers coming from the city and corporate partner Sears to get things started. Then, those volunteers spread out across the city to undertake the repairs.
For the first time this year, Rebuilding Together and Sears partnered nationally with Heroes at Home, a program created to improve the lives of veterans and their families through extensive home rehabilitations. Dixon said it was especially relevant locally given the number of veterans in Alexandria.
It is not just on National Rebuilding Day that volunteers contribute, however. Throughout the year, Rebuilding Together Alexandria has people go out into the community, while the help of corporate partners looking for ways to have their employees give back is beneficial.
“Luckily, our volunteers love this kind of work, so when we put out a call for volunteers needed in June or July or January, we get a great amount of interest from the volunteers,” Dixon said. “But many companies also want year-round projects, so CPRE, Fannie Mae and JBG, they already have projects lined up that are not here in the month of April. We certainly
try to accommodate our supporters’ schedules as well, because without our volunteers we don’t have a program and we can’t help our clients.”
Dixon said the organization and its flagship day of service aims to improve the lives of low-income residents of Alexandria and ensure their homes are kept at a high standard of living.
“Our intended impact in all the work that we do is that by creating or preserving safe and healthy homes for our homeowners to live in, that will allow them to remain in Alexandria, which helps the city remain socially, culturally and economically diverse, which is our ultimate intention of all the work that we do,” Dixon said. “That’s the impact that we hope to have, to allow these folks to stay in their homes, to stay in the neighborhoods in which they grew up.”