It’s not quite like HGTVs Renovation Raiders, but it’s close. Maybe it’s even better. This fall, hundreds of Northlanders plan to converge on a couple of dozen homes the first Saturday of October and make as many improvements as possible in a 24 hour period.
Rebuilding Together Kansas City draws dozens of organizations and hundreds of volunteer workers. Over the past 16 years, it has improved more than 650 houses in Clay, Platte and Clinton counties the old fashioned way — with a little bit of organized neighborly intervention to help keep people in their homes.
Rebuilding Together helped Frances Pierce last year.
When Pierce moved into her North Kansas City home, it was just a year old, but that was 53 years ago. Pierce and her husband raised two children in the tri-level home. The Metro North Mall was built a decade after they purchased their home.
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Her husband died 1981. She retired from The Jones Store in 1995. The area boomed and busted and now, is started to boom again.
Frances has seen it all, but at 83, the toll of time and arthritis had made it difficult to keep up with the things needed to keep her house safe and livable.
The wrought iron railings on the front stoop needed painting and were no longer sturdy. The threshold of her front door was rotted. There was no railing on the interior stairs. Tile in the bathroom was falling apart. She needed help.
“When you own a home, things do happen,” Pierce said. “You have to have things repaired. I had tried to have people do work for me, but it just seemed like they half-did the work and they charged a lot for it.”
A friend told her about a group called Rebuilding Together Kansas City, which helps low-income families, seniors, people living with disabilities and veterans keep their homes in safe condition.
The goal of the organization is to eliminate unsafe and deplorable living conditions for homeowners unable to care for their homes due to financial or physical limitations.
The organization is an affiliate of a national organization and has been serving residents of Clay County since 2001. In that time, more than 5,000 volunteers have put in over 57,000 volunteer hours improving hundreds of Northland houses and apartments with modifications and repairs to keep struggling residents safe and in their homes.
This year, the organization changed its name to “Rebuilding Together Kansas City” to reflect its growing scope and reach into Platte and Clinton counties.
The group is gearing up for its annual “rebuilding together” day the first Saturday of October. The group’s leaders expect about 400 volunteers to tackle projects in 20 to 25 homes in Clay County.
At the Rebuilding Together Kansas City annual house selection meeting, volunteer crew leaders lined up to pick their numbers. About three dozen men and women representing their churches, civic organizations, schools and small businesses came to the meeting to vie for the right to clean up, nail down, install, weed and paint this fall.
Rebuilding Together takes applications all year long. The organization works in Clay, Platte and Clinton counties with their year-round Safe At Home program which tries to help reduce fall risks in the home.
The group installs grab bars and handrails, as well as devices to help people in bathrooms. It also works to create safer and more stable entrances and meets immediate safety modification needs. Those repairs go on year-round.
For houses that need a lot of volunteer labor, there’s the annual rebuild day.
Organization founder Clay McQuerry explains the rebuild day is held each year on the first Saturday in October.
“That’s when we do our home rehabilitation and repair work in homes for disadvantaged families,” McQueery said. “A lot of stuff has been deteriorating for years.”
A crew leader for each project has the opportunity to see the dozens of homes on this year’s rebuild day list. When a crew leader’s ticket was drawn, they got to choose which home they think they can tackle.
Those crew leaders take their projects back to their organizations and businesses. They spend about three months doing fund-finding, volunteer rising and preparations for the build day. The organizations have close interaction with the homeowners as groups work to identify projects, gather materials and resources for the build day.
McQuerry, who brought the Rebuilding Together concept to the Northland, was introduced to the organization when he was serving as a pastor in Wichita Falls, Texas. His church participated every year in the rebuilding day in that town.
McQuerry found it was a way to carry on the “helping your neighbor” tradition his own parents had instilled in him as a child. He believed it was good for all involved.
“To me it was the best community building event in the entire church year because people really got fired up about helping these families,” McQuerry said.
Adam Carter, from the Doniphan Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, says his church has participated for four years because it is a good way to get involved in the community. They have been involved in a variety of projects, ranging from yard work to ripping out and replacing floors.
“It is literally ministering to the poor, the widowed the sick. It has been an incredible experience for us every year,” Carter said. “The little work we get to do in 24 hours is a major improvement to their quality of life. After the first year we did it, I thought, we need to do this every year.”
While the group does a yearly rebuild day in Clay County, it also facilitates a year-round “Safe at Home” program which also includes Platte and Clinton counties. The Safe at Home program helps create safer living environments to help people stay in their homes. The organization also has a construction material and home improvement thrift store called the RT Store in Liberty.
“I was sending things down to the (Habitat for Humanity) ReStore. People wanted to donate to us, but I had no way of taking advantage of it. So, I would send them down there. Finally we had an opportunity to open up a store,” McQuerry said.
Store manager Ed Kephart explains they started as a virtual store and were open “by appointment only” four years ago. They started out with 3,000 square feet. They have now doubled their space and are open 9 to 5 Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.
“I work with several contractors. I will take out bathroom cabinets and vanities. We pick up for customers who want to remodel their houses and get a tax write-off,” Kephart says.
The group is able to use the money raised through sales at the store for unrestricted funding on projects.
Alan Napoli, the city building official in Gladstone, serves on the board of directors for Building Together. He became associated with the organization because he wanted to find a way to help people who needed repairs on their homes, but could not otherwise afford them.
He started working with the group when he realized other organizations could not meet the needs of homeowners he worked with.
“We have to tell people they have to fix things up, but some people don’t have the funds or the means,” Napoli said. “Rebuilding Together helps improve people’s quality of life and living conditions.”
Candy Gorman, who lives in Liberty, got connected to Rebuilding Together when she was trying to land on her feet with two teenage daughters after a divorce. The house she could afford needed painting, a new railing and had some overgrown trees clogging the gutters.
Candy has some physical limitations and pain in her leg which makes walking difficult and getting up on a ladder to do that kind of work impossible. She found out about Rebuilding Together through Love, and applied for help.
“It means a lot to me because the house was run down and the street is nice,” Gorman said. “They were organized and knew what they were doing.”
Like Gorman, Frances Pierce says she was very pleased with the results of the project completed by volunteers with Rebuilding Together Kansas City. It was her first experience asking for volunteer help.
“I didn’t know if I had done the right thing,” Pierce said. “Then after they did the work, I knew I had done the right thing. They did such a good job and they were all so nice to me.”