Rebuilding Together gives local families warm homes

By: Jessica Strachan | C&G Newspapers | Published December 23, 2013

 Korean War Veteran Anna Solomon, then 81, had her house revamped through Rebuilding Together Oakland County, with the help of major sponsors 1-800-HANSONS and Sears.

Korean War Veteran Anna Solomon, then 81, had her house revamped through Rebuilding Together Oakland County, with the help of major sponsors 1-800-HANSONS and Sears.

Photo by Deb Jacques

OAKLAND COUNTY — It’s no wonder why it used to be called “Christmas in July.”

The nonprofit that exists now as Rebuilding Together has changed the lives of more than a hundred local families this winter through its Oakland County chapter.

“Some of these projects aren’t glamorous … but they are critical,” explained Rebuilding Together Oakland County’s Al Kaczkowski. “Sometimes, what people need is a warmer home, safer environment — that’s more cost-effective all the way around.”

Insulating walls, installing handrails, replacing storm doors, sealing windows, and even restoring septic tanks are tasks the nonprofit takes on. 

“A septic tank not in good shape, for example, may cost $300. The people we work with don’t have $300 in their pocket,” Kaczkowski said.

Rebuilding Together focuses on home repairs to make sure Oakland County residents in need can maintain a safe, livable home.

This year, Rebuilding Together Oakland County was able to help 112 homeowners in need with home repairs. Some are residents of Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield and Royal Oak. Some repairs were a quick fix, through the group’s Minor Rebuild Program, and others were team-organized projects, through Rebuilding Oakland County’s April Rebuild Day.

April Rebuild Day alone accounted for more than $300,000 in repairs and upgrades at 47 sites in Oakland County, according to Kaczkowski. The organization was able to raise $249,000 for 2013 projects, with the help of donors like Eaton Corp.

One such project was for Korean War veteran Anna Solomon, an 82-year-old Southfield resident who lives in the 21000 block of Indian Street.

With Sears, as well as 1-800-HANSONS President and CEO Brian Elias leading the way with the organization, more than 40 volunteers came together for a daylong project to keep the war hero from losing her home to rising energy costs and several dangerous safety hazards, according to project leaders.

“Anna’s project — that was a great project,” Kaczkowski said. “She’s a very kind and considerate lady and has been active in her community, but her husband, who was also a military veteran, has been dead for over 10 years and she’s been struggling to keep the house up in good shape, since houses need constant maintenance.”

In addition to new energy-efficient windows, Solomon got her bathroom upgraded with new safety features, and she’ll received a new kitchen, new floors, fresh paint, landscaping and other improvements around her home. She said she was humbled to be included in such a project because, despite the repairs being seemingly trivial to some, they were monumental to her.

“With all of the bad news and cruelty in the world today, it’s great to see such good works in action,” she said. “I want to tell everybody how grateful I am that there are people to help people that are a little bit needy.”

Solomon added that her energy costs will now be lowered, helping her a great deal.

“I love this country too much to see one of our veterans have to go through this,” Elias said in a statement. “When we heard about Anna’s story, the only thing we wanted to do was help make things better for her.”

“My heart is exploding with gratitude,” she said.  “That’s how I feel. There are so many good people that will give their Saturday up and come in to do very hard work to help somebody that can’t do it anymore.”

Other Rebuild Day efforts included knocking down and rebuilding an unsafe garage, replacing windows, renovating kitchens and bathrooms, painting, landscaping, and other miscellaneous upgrades.

Throughout the year, Rebuilding also lends it services for small projects through its Minor Home Repair program, sponsored by the Charter One Foundation, and Rebuilding Together Oakland County was able extend its reach to local shelters, community centers and nonprofits, in addition to homes.

Kaczkowski said these types of projects, done on nearly 60 homes in 2013, included replacing electrical switches, repairing plumbing and installing hand rails, among other tasks.

He added that it was the second year of the Minor Home Repair Program, and it became clear that small issues, like a leaking faucet, could snowball into large issues.

“Sometimes, they just don’t have the money to fix it,” he said.

Through Rebuilding Together Oakland County, 21 different communities saw improvement. Larger projects, like building a ramp for a senior who struggled to get out of her home, were also completed.

Some projects proved to be just as touching, including painting the walls of a widow’s home in her favorite color.

“Sure, it’s paint on the walls to some of us, but it’s really the gift of showing people you care,” he said, explaining the seven-page thank-you letter he received from one Southfield senior after a team came in to fix her home.

“We are putting smiles in their community, and one thing that we hear often is that we are reuniting them with the community through our program. They’ve been disconnected for so long; these individuals often make decisions between eating, buying medication or replacing a broken lock on the front door to stay safe.”

As the year winds down, Rebuilding Together Oakland County is celebrating nine ramps built in just three months, with the help of community groups, including ones from Lawrence Technological University.

The next Rebuilding Together Oakland County Rebuild Day is set for April 26, 2014.

For more information on how to give financially or volunteer, visit www.rebuildingtogether-oakland