Rebuilding together

Mar. 09, 2013 @ 10:14 PM

Margaret Wilder sat quietly in her back yard on Greenbriar Street, her dogs at her feet, calmly emptying out the old jars of vegetables and fruits she had put up in her basement, while the sawing, hammering and drilling went on around her.

She didn’t mind the clatter intruding on a glorious Saturday morning. In fact, she loved it.

“Oh, Lord, honey, it’s a blessing. Sure is,” Wilder said. “No way in this world I could have done any of it. You can’t do these kind of repairs yourself, at least I can’t.”

Wilder needed the repairs — gutters and down spouts to stop drainage problems, new ventilation fans, a wider entrance to the bathroom — but didn’t have to do them herself. They were being done by volunteers from Rebuilding Together of the Triangle.

The local affiliate of a nationwide nonprofit that provides home repair and renovation services free of charge to those in need, Rebuilding Together works on about 35 to 40 homes a year, in Durham, Orange, Wake and Chatham counties. The organization, which started in the area in 1996, has been growing; five years ago, volunteers only did around 18 homes a year.

“What we try to do is bring volunteers and communities together, to improve the lives of low-income homeowners,” said Dan Sargent, the executive director of the local group as he was dragging a curling pile of rubber piping across Wilder’s front yard. “We do this — I do this — because it gives you a chance to serve, it gives you a chance to make a difference.”

More than a dozen area volunteers were making a difference Saturday at Wilder’s home and another 20 or so were working at two nearby houses in need of repair. Because the local affiliate is hosting this weekend’s national Safe and Healthy Housing Summit, the locals were coordinating a three-day “renovation blitz” and were joined by Rebuilding Together members from other affiliates and by members of AmeriCorps, the domestic community service umbrella group.

Chloe Morrell had come to Northeast Central Durham from California’s Silicon Valley, where she is an AmeriCorps volunteer. She was helping Wilder empty out the old Mason jars.

“Helping people is the right thing to do,” Morrell said. “I think this is the way the world can be, people helping each other, and this is a way of serving my country.”

Lindsay Shigetomi had come in from the Tacoma, Wash., affiliate of Rebuilding Together. She was cutting down a 2-by-4 to make a gutter for the front of the Wilder house.

“There’s a big problem with drainage here,” she said. “The gutters will take care of it.”

Rebuilding Together of the Triangle has more than 200 volunteers it normally can call on and tries to do at least one house per weekend during the spring and fall. But it could do many more, Sargent said. Currently, there are more than 150 homeowners on a waiting list for repairs.

Homeowners go through an application process, asking for the repairs. Wilder had seen the work Rebuilding Together had done on a neighbor’s house, now gleaming white and surrounded by immaculate grounds.

“It sure wasn’t like that before,” remembered Peyman Zand, a member of the Rebuilding board who was volunteering Saturday. “There was mold and water problems and overgrown bushes. We did a lot of work on it. Doesn’t it look beautiful now?”

Wilder had been impressed, too. “I just asked them,” she recalled, “do you have anything like that for us poor old widowed ladies?”

They did.