When it comes to transforming a community project into a national movement, Rebuilding Together provides an example we all can admire. Since 1973, Rebuilding Together has brought together volunteers to help low-income homeowners achieve the dream of living in safe, healthy homes. Rebuilding Together got its start when a group of volunteers in Midland, Texas decided to repair homes for people who could not afford to do so themselves. Today, Rebuilding Together’s local affiliates and nearly 100,000 volunteers complete about 10,000 rebuild projects nationally each year.
Carl Hammer, 92, of Sacramento, California is one of these volunteers. After retiring in 1990 from Sysco, a large food service distribution organization, Carl sought to use his handyman skills to give back to his community. Carl got his start in 1991 volunteering for Rebuilding Together Sacramento. Since then, Carl has held many volunteer roles, including overseeing housing rehabilitation projects as House Captain, coordinating an annual two-day school rehabilitation event, starting Rebuilding Together Sacramento’s Safe at Home program, where volunteers inspect homes and install safety measures such as railings for people with disabilities and elderly individuals including veterans, organizing Rebuilding Together Sacramento’s warehouse and even making his own jam to help Rebuilding bring in donations!
Carl shares that there is nothing like volunteering on-site to help rehabilitate a home.
“There is instant gratification to see immediately that you’re helping somebody,” he says. “Seeing what you accomplished.”
And out of all the volunteer projects Carl has participated in the last 26 years, one Safe at Home project particularly stands out.
“I was working on building a ramp for a woman in a wheelchair,” he shares. “And since I’m a hugger, I asked her if I could give her a hug and she agreed. She then said ‘I haven’t had a hug in 15 years.’” Carl found out she lost her husband 15 years earlier.
Not only have Carl and other volunteers been able to bring housing opportunities and enhancements to vulnerable individuals, they have been able to make personal connections with the very people they’re impacting.
Since its founding as a national organization in 1988, Rebuilding Together has mobilized 3.9 million volunteers to serve over 25 million volunteer hours to rehabilitate over 190,000 homes for homeowners in need, delivering nearly $1.86 billion in market value repairs.
Joyce Gurgol, 71, is one of these homeowners. Volunteers came to her Cleveland home last year and completed electrical work in her basement, sealed her basement walls, replaced windows, installed railing and even planted flowers. She recalls it being such an uplifting experience.
“[The volunteers] were so kind and considerate,” she says. “They were just a bunch of nice, nice people.”
During the project, she was brought to tears by the surprise sight of volunteers planting mums in her yard. This moment, and the entire experience, meant a lot to Gurgol, who became a widow in 2014 and relies on a fixed income.
As Rebuilding Together works to deepen its impact on low-income homeowners like Joyce, they recognize it takes a collaborative approach. The organization is focusing on entire communities, partnering with other groups to take a more holistic approach to their work and rebuild community centers, schools, green spaces and more.
“By aligning with the existing efforts of local municipalities, mission-driven nonprofits and corporate leaders to create new and innovative solutions, Rebuilding Together is now, more than ever, uniquely positioned to generate transformational change for the nation’s homeowners and communities at large,” says John White, senior vice president of business strategy. “Rebuilding Together can deliver higher quality services and reach more people in need when we work in partnership with other organizations toward a shared vision of safe and healthy communities that address residents’ needs holistically.”