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Volunteers Set To Fix Up Homes In Poor Neighborhood


Over a thousand volunteers are expected to pitch in this Saturday in Springfield, Massachusetts to help repair more than 60 homes.  It is part of multi-year effort to restore the housing stock in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States.  

Juease Martin has lived in a modest house on Nelson Ave. for more than 30 years.  It is the home where she raised three children by herself after her husband, a Vietnam veteran, died.  This Saturday, a group of strangers are going to help Martin stay in the house a little while longer.

" I know I am blessed," she said.

In a project organized by the nonprofit Revitalize Community Development Corporation, Martin’s house is to get a new coat of paint, a new storm door, and energy-efficient windows. Repairs will be done to the masonry foundation and the gutters. Handrails will be put on the front steps.

" I still have good times her because my grandkids and great-grandkids come over all the time," said Martin. " I have nice memories."

Martin is typical of many of the homeowners in the Old Hill Neighborhood: elderly, and unable to afford the upkeep required on the house they’ve lived in for decades.

" There is a big need in this community with the number of elderly and the poverty level," said Revitalize CDC President and CEO Colleen Loveless.

This marks the fourth year of a 10-year strategic plan to repair the houses on 10 contiguous blocks in the neighborhood where 70 percent of families live below the poverty line.

In past years, 20-25 homes were done during the annual Green-N-Fit Neighborhood Rebuild, but this year 62 homes are slated for repairs.

" We have the most sponsors we've every had, over 90 sponsors this year. And every year the number of volunteers increases. This year we expect close to 1,500 volunteers. So, the more volunteers and sponsors, the more houses we can do," said Loveless.

Contractors are hired to do skilled labor on the houses including putting on new roofs, installing windows and new heating systems, and making major repairs.  Loveless said the focus is on making meaningful improvements that reduce energy use and make for a sustainable living environment.

Each year, volunteers come from as far away as Maine and Virginia to participate.

" The homeowners who have had work done in past years, they come and volunteer on our project and so that keeps growing too," explained Loveless.

Ethel Griffin, an activist in the Old Hill Neighborhood where she has lived for more than 50 years, said the annual home repair project has brought the residents closer together.

"The key thing I find is that people begin to know each other. People have lived next to each other for years and years, but really don't know each other," said Griffin.

The work on Saturday also includes yard cleanups and removing trash and debris from vacant lots.

Revitalize CDC estimates that since its inception in 1992 the organization has repaired almost 600 homes in western Massachusetts with the help of 10,000 volunteers.   

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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