2024-06-22 10:10 AM

Rebuilding Together Helps Seniors Age in Place with Safer Homes

A CREW consisting of (from left to right) Brian Goggin, Brendan Lewis and Don Ryan measure out where to cut the wood in order to make a hand rail for Frances Stalling’s home. (Photo: Kate Goggin)

When Frances Stallings opened her property tax mailing from Fairfax County, she studied an insert with information about an organization working to help low-income homeowners. Little did she know it would lead to long-needed improvements to her Alexandria home where she has lived for decades.

“I am indeed grateful to Rebuilding Together,” Stallings said. “My husband passed in 2004 and there really is a lot of upkeep for a house. Given the fact, too, that it’s 48 years old, it requires a lot of maintenance.”

Rebuilding Together is a national non-profit organization which brings volunteers and communities together to improve the homes and lives of low-income homeowners.

According to Patti Klein, the executive director of the organization’s Arlington/Fairfax/Falls Church affiliate, improvements to Stallings’ home matched one of the organization’s top goals: to improve safety in houses.

“We mobilize teams who volunteer their time and go out and make repairs for homeowners,” Klein said. “We target people with limited incomes, most of whom are seniors who live on Social Security and, often at one time, could support themselves but through illness, divorce, or a loss of job now find themselves in vulnerable positions” when it’s hard to make home repairs themselves.

Rebuilding has a checklist it uses to assess homes before teams begin work. That includes making sure stairs and individual steps are safe and secure, discovering any obscure tripping hazards as well as detecting moisture problems that can lead to mildew and attract pests.

The affiliate’s director of partnerships is Don Ryan who trains and manages teams on-site. He said Rebuilding Together’s local branch emphasizes aging in place for the seniors that make up 80 percent of Rebuilding Together’s clientele.

In its “express” program, homes can be improved for $400 or $500 with four or five volunteers in a day, Ryan said. Rebuilding Together can spend up to $15,000 or more on a home, but Klein added that the non-profit doesn’t do “extreme makeovers.”

Rebuilding Together learns about persons in need from social agencies, referrals, hospitals, non-profits, therapists and persons may self-apply, like Stallings did.

FRANCES STALLINGS admires her new hand rails in her shower. (Photo: Patricia Leslie)

Services are offered to individuals who own their homes and meet income requirements. The group used to known as “Christmas in April” but now it’s Christmas year-round, which is the way Stallings described it in her church newsletter.

“I was at a point where I would not get in the tub because of the difficulty I had getting out,” Stallings continued. “But now, with the grab bars, I can take a tub bath, if I choose to. I feel more secure moving about in the house.”

Last year about 1,200 volunteers assisted with 73 local projects. Its “signature day” is the last Saturday in April which this year falls on April 28.

Volunteers Kate and Brian Goggin, Falls Church residents, were looking for something extra to do after they became empty nesters.

Brian is a retired agricultural attaché for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and his work took the family to Mexico and Bulgaria where “we really enjoyed volunteering as a family,” Kate said. They learned about Rebuilding Together from Brian’s colleagues.

“I’m sort of a do-it-yourselfer,” Brian said. “[At Rebuilding Together] we go in and do the most necessary repairs that relate to the needs of the client. Safety improvements are 90 percent of the work.”

Kate added: “Living in unhealthy conditions impacts your health and has a ripple effect. We work to reduce the possibility of people falling in homes and breaking a hip.”

Brian’s consulting business consumes a large part of his time, yet he finds about 12 to 16 hours a week to volunteer for Rebuilding Together, and Kate averages between five and six hours a month while working in communications for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

She applies those skills to Rebuilding Together work and takes before and after photographs.

Said Klein, “We can use anyone who is willing to give their time. No special talents are required, and we can use any volunteers at any skill level. It’s like a puzzle: Here are the pieces and here is what we need.”

NEW RAILINGS in Stallings’ basement stairwell are also a welcome sight. (Photo: Patricia Leslie)

Interested persons and companies can sign up on the website which has more information.

“There are so many people in need,” Ryan said. “Fairfax, Arlington, and Falls Church are really wealthy places, and I cannot imagine what it’s like elsewhere. With more than a shoestring budget we could do so much more.”

Rebuilding gets funding from grants, foundations, area churches, corporations, banks, construction companies, Fairfax and Arlington counties and the City of Fairfax.

“We used to apply to city of Falls Church but it’s a big process,” Klein said, quick to add that some churches in Falls Church contribute, as well as individuals and sometimes, beneficiaries of projects, “but we never ask them.”

Stallings praised the volunteers who came out to her house and installed new electrical outlets, interior and exterior railings, a carbon monoxide detector, deadbolts for her doors and new bath and tub grab bars in her bathrooms.

The volunteers also improved lighting in the house and lettering for her outside address, checked to ensure her dryer vent met safety standards and patched floor tiles and more at no cost to Stallings.

“They were wonderful,” Stallings said. “They are terrific people.”

On a tour of her home to display its improvements, Stallings’ happiness beamed across her face which seemed far younger than her age.

“I am aging, but better that than not,” she laughed.

For more information, contact the Arlington/Fairfax/Falls Church affiliate at 703-528-1999 or info@rebuildingtogether-aff.org.





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