by June Portnoy
When you have a broken window or need improved lighting, chances are you call a contractor or make the repair yourself. But what if you can’t afford to pay a contractor to make these repairs and are physically unable to do so yourself?
That’s a problem many of your Bucks County neighbors struggle with on a routine basis. Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County recognized this issue while building new homes for qualified low-income individuals and families.
“For more than 25 years, Habitat Bucks has focused on our Homeownership Program, but during this time, it became obvious that lots of low-income families cannot afford the daily maintenance of their homes,” explained Karen Reever, Community Development Manager at Habitat Bucks.
As a result, A Brush With Kindness was established in 2011. This initiative became the Home Repair Program of Habitat Bucks. This organization now partners with low-income households to make minor home repairs. Initially, all home repairs were made to the exterior of houses, such as fixing front doors and porches and performing landscaping to improve drainage.
“By making these repairs, we want our homeowners to feel like equal community members of their neighborhood and take pride in their home,” explains Karen. “These repairs are made for health, safety and home preservation reasons, and not for cosmetic enhancements.”
According to Karen, “the majority of homeowners who qualify to receive these repairs are older or disabled and on a fixed income, so there is an aging in place component to what we do as well.
“Prior to July, we only made exterior repairs, like adding handicap-accessible ramps outside, but then once homeowners got inside, many of them still needed minor modifications like the installation of railings on their stairs.
“Therefore, starting in July, we began making interior home safety repairs.”
Now that Habitat Bucks is completing both outdoor and indoor repairs, it is looking for a core of volunteers available when needed to help make these home improvements. To volunteer, you must be at least 18. If you’re younger, you are welcome to help, but must work with a parent or guardian. All volunteers receive on-the-job training.
Each project takes just two to four days at a time, and volunteers can work for as little as an afternoon. In order for homeowners to qualify for this program, they must have a household income of under 80% of Bucks County’s median family income; own and live in the home in need of repairs within Bucks County; be up-to-date on property taxes and mortgages payments; and demonstrate the ability to repay a portion of the repair, depending on their household income.
Since the motto of Habitat for Humanity is “a hand up; not a hand out,” the homeowner must participate in the home repair in some way. For example, they may provide refreshments for the volunteers. If the homeowner is unable to help make home repairs due to disability, a family or friend may work on the homeowner’s behalf. Homeowners are encouraged to talk with the volunteers.
“Their presence gives them the opportunity to get to know the volunteers, which has led to several friendships,” says Karen.
Not only do homeowners benefit, but volunteers do too by learning valuable repair skills from Bucks Habitat’s construction staff. Since many volunteers are older and retirees, volunteering helps them continue to feel engaged in their community.
“Also, volunteers feel good about themselves, knowing they are making a positive difference in the world around them,” says Karen.
The next repair job will require two volunteers to replace a broken window and do a minor roof repair at a Levittown home (date to be determined). Ladies, to improve or learn construction or home repair skills, Habitat Bucks, in partnership with Lowe’s in Warrington and Langhorne, is offering Women Build Clinics each Thursday in October from 7:00pm to 8:30pm.
Use your new skills by volunteering at Habitat Bucks. To volunteer for A Brush With Kindness, visit www.habitatbucks.org.