“The difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in this zip code (80205) is enormous,” began Albus Brooks, District 8 Denver City Council Member, as he welcomed nearly 200 volunteers to Russell Square Park in the Cole neighborhood on Saturday, September 21, 2013. While the Cole neighborhood is attracting many new and more affluent homeowners, the gap widens for those who have lived there a long time, exist on low incomes and are aging. “Many nonprofits and other service providers do not come into this part of town,” he explained, “because the demographic information just does not truly capture the misery still existing for so many.”
The staff of RTMD chose the neighborhood, not only because of the many folks already on waiting lists from this zip code, but expressly because it is a community in transition. “We had the notion,” explains Kathryn Arbour, President/CEO of the agency, “that if we could involve the newcomers, too, engage them in our work, we might be onto a new way to help create some sustainability in this neighborhood.” So often the work done by RTMD and its volunteers is wonderful, but temporary as so many of those helped are older or suffer from limited mobility. They are largely unable to maintain their homes and make critical repairs. When our work is done, however, we need folks in the neighborhood to continue to care for each other to ensure that when the light bulb burns out, or the window gets broken, or that gate falls off the hinge in a wind storm that someone across the street or down the block will show up to help make the fix. Otherwise, the cycle of disrepair never stops.
During the whole week leading up to Saturday’s event, groups of volunteers and professionals worked on 16 homes, making small and large fixes that help make homes healthier and safer. During Saturday, for example, small teams went from home to home on the list installing grab bars, handrails, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors, and painted new address numbers on the front steps or curbs. More skilled teams repaired and installed dry wall, made electrical and plumbing repairs, and upgraded bathrooms and kitchens. Some homes received new furnaces, water heaters and air conditioners.
All told, the effort made a significant change in the lives of over 35 individual, many of them grandparents whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren also spend lots of time in these homes. Adding ventilation, replacing ripped carpeting with floating hardwood vinyl flooring and fixing broken steps will help everyone who comes and goes from these homes, not to mention improving the housing stock in this transitional neighborhood.
Rebuilding Together is partnering with the National Center for Healthy Housing on an effort dubbed the Healthy Housing Challenge. Wells Fargo has committed $850,000 to help launch and support this effort across the country. RTMD is one of nine Rebuilding Together affiliates engaged in this challenge. This week’s events launched the healthy housing challenge. Local Wells Fargo executive Shelley Marquez spoke to the volunteers and others who gathered Saturday morning. “Our commitment to communities like this one across the country is a serious one. We are honored to be with the dozens of other businesses here today who support this important work of Rebuilding Together.”
By day’s end, over 96 healthy housing repairs were completed! “I am just blown away,” said Judy Redwine, one of the homeowners, who with her ailing husband, can move more freely around her home, and face the coming winter more confidently. “You have no idea what this means to us! May all God’s blessings be on RTMD and all the volunteers and businesses who support you.”