An initiative to restore the older housing stock in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country is continuing this week in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The two-story brick house halfway down the block of narrow Manhattan Street had a leaky roof, several broken basement windows, and crumbling front steps. Since her husband died a decade ago, 89-year-old Elsa Gordon has struggled with the upkeep of the home.
" He passed. So, I am all by myself," Gordon said.
Earlier this week, a small army of contractors showed up to put on a new roof and to begin making other repairs. This Saturday volunteers will do some painting and yardwork and new appliances are to be delivered.
All of it done free-of-charge to Gordon as part of Revitalize Community Development Corporation’s annual GreenNFit Neighborhood Rebuild program.
" It is wonderful. I really appreciate it. It is a God-send, a blessing," said Gordon as workers hammered away to repair her front steps.
The program focuses on the homes of low-income families, the elderly, and military veterans with repairs that are intended to help people stay in their homes by reducing energy costs and making the structures more safe and secure.
This year, 11 houses and a group home will be repaired. A community garden will be created.
Rick Saunders is one of two Vietnam-era veterans whose home is being repaired.
"It gives hope to everybody on the street," said Saunders.
Contractors do the skilled work on plumbing and electrical systems and any repairs that involve climbing a ladder. This Saturday, volunteers will descend on the street to do painting, clean up, yardwork, and help install handrails and exterior access ramps.
More than 1,000 volunteers are expected. People have registered to come from as far away as Maine and Virginia, according to Revitalize CDC Associate Director Ethel Griffin.
" I think it is unique in the fact that people want to help people," said Griffin. "We have people who registered back in January who want to work on this project."
Six years ago, Revitalize CDC announced a ten-year plan to repair homes, cleanup vacant lots, install playground equipment and community gardens on 10 contiguous blocks in the Old Hill Neighborhood.
Griffin, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, said the annual project has brought people closer together.
"We have people from the street ( where the rebuild took place) last year, who have volunteered to work on this street this year," Griffin said. "It improves the value of the neighborhood. Most of the homes here are old and need a lot of work."
Since 1992, Revitalize CDC reports it has rehabilitated almost 700 homes in western Massachusetts.