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Volunteers Paint, Plant, Patch on 'Rebuilding Day'

Nonprofit mobilizes neighbors to improve living conditions for elderly and disabled homeowners.

Pat Lewis, who bought her Berkeley home in 1972, sat on her front steps grinning Saturday after the last of 25 volunteer workers drove away.

“All I asked them to do was repair the front steps,” she said, chuckling.

And so they did. They also cleaned, pruned, painted, and rehabilitated, turning back the clock on the aging Craftsman home by refurbishing its laundry room, kitchen, back yard and exterior.

The Fairview two-story was one of 20 projects Rebuilding Together East Bay-North undertook Saturday to improve living conditions for low-income seniors and veterans who lack the resources to patch leaky roofs, reinforce stairs, replace windows and make other essential upgrades.

Believing home ownership stabilizes and strengthens neighborhoods, Rebuilding Together mobilizes volunteers to help preserve homes and neighborhoods. Their ranks include community members and “professional volunteers” – skilled tradesmen who donate expertise in electricity, plumbing, roofing or construction.

The organization launched in Texas in 1986, and has expanded to encompass more than 250 chapters, said East Bay-North executive director John Stevens, a veteran contractor-turned-administrator who occasionally still swings a hammer or delivers building materials on Rebuilding Together projects.

But Stevens said the organization goes full-tilt all year long -- not just on National Rebuilding Day.

“We built six on Martin Luther King Day in Richmond,” he said. “Now, we’re working on homes in Emeryville and Berkeley, and three nonprofits that provide housing.”

The organization got a special surprise Saturday: Wells Fargo, which donated $10,000 to the effort last year, upped its contribution to $25,000.

While most seniors want to “age in place” in their own homes, many lack the resources to make the necessary upgrades when the roof begins leaking or the stairs start to sag, he said.

Rebuilding Together East Bay-North serves Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, North Richmond, Richmond, and San Pablo. Since its founding in 1991, the local has rehabilitated more than 700 homes and facilities in the Bay Area with the help of more than 20,000 volunteers.

Board member Alice LaPierre and “first mate” Larry Davidson chuckled as they walked past a monumental mound of clippings from Pat Lewis’ back yard to pack up tarps and tools.

“It's a really nice house,” LaPierre said.

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