story by Jamie Smith
Safe, warm and dry are three features most people just assume their residence will have but that’s not necessarily the case for an alarming number of Northwest Arkansas residents.
Rebuilding Together of Northwest Arkansas is an organization that works with volunteers to make sure that low-income homeowners, particularly the elderly, disabled and families with children, have homes that are safe and warm.
“We help them be able to stay in their home,” explained Rick McLeod, board president. “It’s often a situation where they are physically unable to care for their hoe and so it falls in disrepair. They are faced with the decision of ‘do I spend money on food and medicine or do I pay someone to fix my home.’ Often they are too proud to ask for help so we find out about the need when a neighbor (or someone else like a friend or fellow church member) asks for them to get help.”
Rebuilding Together started in July 2002 and to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the organization is doing 10 larger-sized projects throughout the region.
Four were completed in Bentonville in June, three in Pea Ridge in September and the remainder will be in the Fayetteville and Springdale area. Other, smaller projects continue as needs arise, said Jan Skopecek, executive director.
Traditionally, Rebuilding Together operates through three programs. Rebuilding Day is a single day where about 800 total volunteers work on 15 houses at a time.
Rebuilding Year-Round is for major emergencies, and mostly involves hiring professional help for problems that arise such as broken pipes, Skopecek explained.
The third program, Ramp and Accessibility Modification Program (RAMP), is designed to build ramps and make other necessary modifications for people with disabilities or other mobility needs. The RAMP program involves both professional and volunteer help.
McLeod and Skopecek can tell countless stories of people the organization has helped. There’s the World War II veteran who had a floor that was so damaged that he couldn’t get around in his own home until Rebuilding Together helped him.
There’s the elderly couples who are able to stay together in their homes instead of moving to assisted living simply because their homes are repaired and made to be disabled accessible. There are also families who are living without clean water or proper sewer systems.
“You think of this in Third World countries but it’s happening right here in Northwest Arkansas,” McLeod said.
Besides offering safe and warm places to live, the programs offer clients something else — a return of their independence and strengthened self-esteem.
“They are not being dependent on others,” Skopecek said.
Rebuilding Together is entirely funded through donations, corporate and community grants and through organizations such as the United Way. Supplies are also often donated. People are often surprised the organization receives no government funding, Skopecek said.
“We raise all the money locally,” she said.
There are some income requirements to receive help but most clients don’t even come close to the maximum annual salary.
“Most of our clients make less than $15,000 a year,” she said.
Doris Lowery is one of many people who the organization has helped. Her Bentonville home received renovations to accommodate her wheelchair during the summer work day.
“They widened a hallway door to get my wheelchair through and made the bathroom accessible,” she said. “They also repainted my house and fixed the back and added a ramp in front so I could get my wheelchair in and out.”
Before getting help from Rebuilding Together, Lowery struggled to get her wheelchair in out of the house, a problem made more difficult by the increasing back pain that makes the wheelchair a necessity.
“I love the concept of what they’re doing for people,” Lowery said.
Volunteers are a major backbone for the organization. Church groups, corporations, individuals, families and many professionals volunteer their time to help others in the community.
Steve Abshier of Abshier Construction has volunteered with Rebuilding Together for about eight or nine years, he said.
“I wanted to do something to give back and it was something I could do,” he said. “I originally was going to volunteer one day but now I’m house captain and put in about 40 hours in a job.”
Abshier said he appreciates how the organization is able to help people who are truly in need.
“It makes you feel good to see what was done,” he said.
All skill levels are welcome and there’s roles available for just about anyone, he said. On one of the larger projects, there are jobs including help distribute food to volunteers, raking, picking up trash and other easy tasks. There are also more skill-related tasks for people with experience.
“There’s something that someone can do if they want to take the time to do something worthwhile,” Abshier said.