By Anne Ball
When she was growing up in Cleveland, Kimberly Moore’s family enjoyed a tradition of volunteering. The Red Cross and Toys for Tots were early favorites.
Years later, as a young mother in Santa Ana, Calif., with her small son Christopher in tow, she continued to spread her volunteer interests even further, adding Christmas in April to the growing list. Little did she know that one day she would be the beneficiary of its efforts.
Since suffering a series of back injuries a few years ago,Moore, 47, has been confined to a wheelchair. She rediscovered Christmas in April, a national organization whose name changed several years ago to Rebuilding Together, when she called the county to inquire about improving her home’s accessibility.
She wanted to install a ramp that would give her easier access to the road and the paratransit buses she used. The Office on Aging arranged for the ramp and suggested that Moore contact Rebuilding Together for her home improvement needs.
And so this spring,Moore watched from her wheelchair as Christopher, now 21, worked withmore than 30 other volunteers from Rebuilding Together Howard County to transform her Elkridge home. They put in new flooring, repainted walls, repaired a leaky ceiling, and installed an all-in-one washer/dryer combination in the kitchen.
“I’ve regained a little bit more of my independence, especially with the washer/dryer upstairs instead of in the basement,” Moore said. As the work was proceeding, she easily maneuvered her wheelchair through hallways and rooms that just a day before were almost impassable because old, rippled carpeting impeded the wheels.
Done in a day
Rebuilding Together’s stated mission is “to preserve and revitalize houses and communities, assuring that low-income homeowners, particularly those who are elderly and disabled and families with children, live in warmth, safety and independence.”
“That’s a lot to live up to, especially with the cold winters we’ve had the last couple years,” said Anne Heavner, executive director of Rebuilding Together Howard County.
Hannelore Vallotton, 85, is just the type of homeowner Rebuilding Together likes to help. She bought her Columbia townhouse just after it was built 40 years ago, and it’s aged with her. Recently, she’s found it difficult to make needed repairs.
When the homeowners’ association sent Vallotton a letter telling her that her fence and steps needed to be repaired, she was stymied.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t found Rebuilding Together. I didn’t have the money to do this myself,” she said. “The job they did is just fantastic.”
From painting to plastering to gardening, more than 800 Rebuilding Together Howard County volunteers rehab about 30 houses for older adults and people with disabilities each year, usually on the last day of April. Since 1992, the organization has repaired and rehabilitated 583 homes and nonprofit facilities in Howard County.
“What is so amazing is how everything is pulled together in just one day,” said Ed Hamel, 77, founder and president of Elkridge-based Hamel Builders.
“And there are jobs for everyone,” he added. “It isn’t all hammering and measuring and cutting and fitting. There is paint to be scraped, yards to be raked — all kinds of chores for young and old,” Hamel said.
With apartments, commercial buildings and senior assisted and independent living projects in his portfolio, Hamel has been a valued board member of Rebuilding Together and recipient of its Golden Hammer award.
He has assisted the organization both as a financial sponsor—underwriting some of the expenses of redoing local homes—and as a proactive cheerleader, recruiting volunteers from his own roster of 158 workers and from some of his suppliers as well.
Applying for assistance
While much of the actual remodeling takes place in a day, Rebuilding Together is busy year round, reviewing applications and recruiting volunteers and funding.
Technically, any Howard County homeowner can apply for a Rebuilding Together “makeover.” But in accordance with its mission, special consideration is given to those who are seniors or disabled, and to those living on a limited income with additional needs such as home healthcare, hospital costs and medication expenses.
A committee of individuals whose backgrounds include architecture, homebuilding, housing needs and accessibility is chosen by the Rebuilding Together board of directors to review applications and select potential recipients.
Someone from the committee visits each potential house for a visual inspection of the work needed and to interview the homeowner before final selections are made and the recipients notified.
Lewis Lorton is one of the volunteers who visit applicants’ homes to see if they qualify for services and if the work needed is in the scope of what volunteers can accomplish. He both photographs the rebuilding projects and interviews potential residents who need help with their homes.
A retired healthcare executive and dentist, Lorton spent a while searching for a meaningful volunteer opportunity. “It’s hard to go out and do something and actually have an impact,” he said. “Rebuilding Together provides a way for volunteers to have a clear impact.”
Honoring a loved one
When Moore made her original request to Rebuilding Together, they matched her needs to an offer from Robin Linthicum, who had recently lost her husband Dale to cancer at the age of 58. Dale was a builder and contractor, co-owner of the remodeling firm Custom Concepts, Inc. in Ellicott City.
“I wanted to do something special in lieu of flowers, something more meaningful for his memory,” Linthicum said. “Dale was never a flower [lover], but he loved his work and lived to work, so I thought something with building or construction would be a great way to honor him.”
One of his last projects was the remodeling of a neighbor’s house. Under Dale’s supervision, the Ralph and Lisa Galloway home was transformed over several years from a small square cottage to an expansive house with a deck, great room and new kitchen and bath.
Linthicum shared with the Galloways her intentions to help Moore. Ralph, 53, had become very involved in the Rebuilding Together organization, and he pulled together a team of volunteers from their workplaces, volunteer groups and religious organizations.
More than 30 volunteers assembled at the Moore house early on the morning of April 30, National Rebuilding Day, and worked all day, tearing out old carpeting and installing new flooring made available at cost from Vertical Connections in Columbia.
“My boys brought their girlfriends,” Linthicum said. “Some of the volunteers were people Dale had worked for, others were subcontractors who had worked for him. It was such a goodway to honor him. I’ll definitely be part of another teamnext year.”
Like Linthicum, volunteers tend to come back year after year — and bring reinforcements, said Heavner, the group’s executive director. In fact, Heavner herself started as a Rebuilding Together volunteer when she was a senior vice president at Wachovia Bank.
“A number of religious communities and other nonprofit organizations as well as commercial enterprises are expressing interest in the combination team-building and community service aspects of the program. And each year more volunteers bring their children so that it’s become very much a family effort,” she said.
Public officials who come with messages of support for Rebuilding Day often stay to roll up their shirt sleeves, grab a paintbrush or broom and get to work, she added, citing recent support from Senator Benjamin Cardin, County Executive Ken Ulman, the Howard County delegation and county council members.
“We live in a clearly upper middle class community, and you don’t really know how upper middle class it is until you meet people who don’t live like that,” Lorton said.
“Sometimes you walk out of [a home] and say ‘I wish I could take those kids and give them great clothes and great schooling You can’t, but it makes you appreciate what you do have, absolutely.”
To apply for Rebuilding Together’s assistance or to volunteer, call (410) 381- 4412, write Rebuilding Together, 8775 Centre Park Dr., #519, Columbia, MD 21045, or visit the organization’s website at www.rebuildingtogetherhowardcounty.org.
There are other ways to help as well. The organization is raffling a hot tub valued at $4,900, donated by Van Dom Pools. Tickets are $10 each or three for $20, and are available by calling (410) 381-3338. The drawing will be held October 24.
Also, on Tuesday, September 20, the Green Turtle Sports Bar & Grille at 8872 McGaw Rd. in Columbia will donate 10 percent of that day’s proceeds to Rebuilding Together.