By Abbie Bennett
April 6, 2014
Purple T-shirts, dirty hands, sweat-streaked faces and smiles: Those were the hallmarks of progress for more than 30 volunteers on Saturday.
And tears and joy were the hallmarks of thanks from three grateful families.
Sitting at a small table on her porch, 68-year-old Diana Wooten watched volunteers install a guard rail for the stairs leading to her white picket-fenced home at 1013 W. Third St. She smiled as she tried to recall a time where she had been more grateful.
“My heart is just so lifted; it floats like a feather now,” Wooten said. “I’ve had a smile all day.”
Volunteers with Rebuilding Together Pitt County Inc. began work early Saturday morning to improve the homes and lives of local homeowners in need without any cost to the owners. The effort was part of National Rebuilding Day, the organization’s signature event held in collaboration with a volunteer festival at the Lucille W. Gorham Intergenerational Community Center, featuring music, games, health screenings, cleanups and other activities.
Volunteers from AmeriCorps, East Carolina University and U.S. Marines from Jacksonville were busy from about 6 a.m. into the evening Saturday. They did a variety of work, including installing railings and bathroom grab bars, repainting, adding ventilation for a dryer in Wooten’s home and new duct work for heating and air conditioning in another home.
For Wooten, who has lived in her west Greenville home off and on since the late 1960s, the work of volunteers was a blessing she wants others to experience.
“I just want to get the word out,” Wooten said. “So many people don’t know about this. I’m going to go to church (Sunday) and tell the congregation about it.”
Even though she does not have the means to repay the $1,000 budget of improvements to her home, she feels she needs to give back.
“I don’t have any money,” Wooten said. “But I’m making it my business to give a donation of some kind. Even if it’s just a little, every little bit helps. This means so much to me. I love my home, and now I can love it even more.”
Still in shock
Ramona Hart, 53, lives with her elderly mother in a home that’s gone without heating or air conditioning for more than a year at a time.
A former business owner, Hart gave up her career to move in and take care of her mother when she left an assisted living facility. But the home she returned to was not one fit for aging at home. And that’s where Rebuilding Together came in.
Hart said she saw a notice about the program on her church’s website, but was hesitant because she thought she would be turned away.
“It still hasn’t really dawned on me yet,” Hart said. “I think I’m still in shock.”
Hart said her mother has dementia and had been walking around the home all day Saturday wondering how much all the work to replace duct work in the home and to gut and rebuild the bathroom to make it more accessible would cost. Hart said she had to keep reminding her mother — and herself — that this was all for free.
“They said they were going to fix the heating and air, and that hasn’t been worked on for 20 years,” Hart said. “I thought it would be small changes, but it’s so overwhelming.”
Hart was thankful for the kindness and smiles from volunteers working on her home, saying she thought the volunteers were “better than paid workers.”
With an ill mother and several diagnoses herself, Hart said her family had learned to do without a lot, including heating and air conditioning, in order to meet other needs.
“It became unnecessary for us,” she said. “We had to buy medicine. We had to pay for utilities.”
With a budget of about $5,000, volunteers worked to replace collapsed duct work and to strip the bathroom to bare bones. Volunteers will continue to work to make it more accessible.
At 906 Ward St. in west Greenville, 70-year-old Margaret Scaton sat on her porch sorting belongings as volunteers helped clear her home of “the accumulation of a lifetime,” Scaton said.
Scaton, originally from Wilmington, has lived at the home on Ward Street for more than 47 years, she said, and lives there now with her granddaughter and great-granddaughter. About $1,000 worth of repairs including railings, grab bars, stabilizing a toilet, and other safety and access features were in the works for Scaton’s home Saturday as a steady stream of purple-clad volunteers carried supplies in and out of the home.
Scaton said District 1 Councilwoman Kandie Smith got her involved with the program.
“She got me started on the paperwork,” Scaton said. “This wouldn’t have happened without her. And they’re doing a great job. It’s so much work. I’m just glad they’re here. It’s a relief.”
Getting hands on
For ECU student volunteers, working on the three homes Saturday started out as a class assignment, and evolved into community service with a smile.
Junior interior design student Olivia Cullifer said the work gives her and her fellow students a different appreciation for their studies.
“You can spend all your time working on something like this on the table or on the computer, but it’s completely different when you’re right here in someone’s home,” Cullifer said. “It definitely gives you a new appreciation for everything that goes into something like this.”
This experience is not one she could get in a classroom, Cullifer said.
“Being here and tearing things up and then making them better isn’t something that can be taught, I think,” she said. “It’s entirely new and so valuable.”
Work on her home will not end until classes come to a close later this month, but Hart said it’s more than worth the wait to see her home, and her life, improve.
“I don’t take it for granted at all,” Hart said. “This is like winning the lottery for me.”