New Milford >> “Helping to rebuild lives – one home at a time” is the mission for Rebuilding Together of Litchfield County Inc., located in New Milford. Over its 13 years that mission has been made possible through its dedicated volunteers and generous donations.
The organization is a 501c3 affiliate of its national organization, Rebuilding Together in Washington, D.C. Its efforts include preserving and revitalizing homes and communities to aid low-income homeowners, particularly those who are elderly, disabled and/or supporting young children so they may live in safety and warmth.
The Connecticut affiliate was founded in 2004 with a mission of helping preserve safe, warm and dry residences for low income homeowners over the age of 60.
“To date volunteers have served over 223 homeowners making over 3,150 individual repairs to these homes in Litchfield County and contiguous Fairfield County,” said Ceia Webb, Founding Executive Director/CEO of Rebuilding Together of Litchfield County, Inc. “Significant preservation repairs have included reroofing homes, installing all windows with energy efficient replacements and tub to walk-in/roll-in shower replacements.”
Webb said that low-income owned housing tends to be old, in poor condition and energy inefficient. With the help of “25 Health and Safety Priorities” volunteer teams are able to focus attention on significant hazards, inform trade-offs, guide the design of repairs and provide a consistent means to report outcomes.
“We offer work based on health and safety benchmarks, measurable outcomes and competent stewardship of awarded funding,” said Webb. “The latest financials show 17 percent in administrative overhead costs. Solving the issue of poverty housing far outweighs the cost to a community of persons living in inadequate conditions that are inappropriate for older residents.”
Rebuilding Together is happy to accept all volunteers, and their signature work is done annually on the last Saturday in April, when renovations, repairs, and handicap adaptations for all qualified homeowners are made, said Webb.
Webb shared that while planning for the first Rebuild Day in 2004, she wondered if there would be any applications from eligible homeowners. Having organized in December of 2003, they had a functioning Board, initial donations for materials of about $2,000 and a provisional 501c3 designation.
“What if no one was interested in our fledging offer of repair assistance,” said Webb.
Then one homeowner called and sent in an application. She was indeed eligible and Rebuilding Together’s Site Team went for an assessment visit.
“On the last Saturday in April, 35 volunteers of every skill level replaced 21 windows with [energy] efficient ones, repaired exterior doors and painted three rooms and removed years of ‘stored treasures’ into a 30-yard dumpster,” said Webb.
Webb said that in the blink of an eye, the organization moved from its first homeowner to its 223rd client being assisted.
“I often wonder at the sheer magnitude of professional craftsmen working with a team of volunteers bringing safety and home security to multiple struggling homeowners,” said Webb. “There is no gift quite as meaningful as a new roof, when the old one was so damaged there were pails catching leaks for years, or a safe stairway, or a walk-in-shower instead of reaching for the shower curtain to steady yourself.”
Webb said there isn’t any way to thank these kind and generous men and women for sharing their talents and stretching the organization’s funds so miraculously.
“Personifying the term ‘Yankee Ingenuity,’ they dig into their trucks for parts and pieces, wire and coat hangers,” said Webb. “They work for as many hours as it takes to complete tasks to the best of their abilities – their awesome abilities.
Webb said that each year they hope to give volunteers more meaningful experience while better managing work site needs. Also finding a central meeting location to begin the work day was a missing factor.
“Recently, Education without Walls [in New Milford] opened its Railroad Street entrance and offered Rebuilding Together the use of the space over the Rebuild Day weekend,” said Webb. “That was the central meeting location we had been needing – lots of parking at the railroad station lot across the street, a welcoming entrance and space enough to offer a continental breakfast.”
Webb said they provided a “pack you own lunch” option for volunteers, with sandwiches, desserts and drinks, t-shirt distribution, work site instruction and directions. The organization will be there next year.