When hundreds of volunteers descend on a community in a day, they can transform a decaying city block into a friendly neighborhood infused with a renewed pride in ownership and appreciation for the kindness of others. This is the impact of Rebuilding Together Broward County and the partnerships they have cultivated to eliminate unsafe and deplorable living conditions for low-income homeowners who are elderly, veterans or have disabilities. It extends beyond repairing each individual home and helps stabilize much of the vulnerable neighborhoods in which they live.
“When you lift a few houses, you lift an entire community,” noted Traci Miller, Chairman of Rebuilding Together Broward County and SVP Business Development for Miller Construction Company.
“We lean on the broken window theory,” explained Robin Martin, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Broward County. “The concept is that if you make an environment better, people treat it better. We’ve seen a number of times when we’ve gone back into a community where we’ve done work, the neighbors have improved their homes because they saw homes around them being improved.”
Focusing on the aging is a big part of the equation as Florida leads the nation for the number of seniors, and Broward’s population aged 80-84 is expected to increase by 73 percent in the next 12 years according to The Silver Tsunami Report, compiled by the Community Foundation of Broward and its partners. They’re asking, how do we leave seniors in their homes longer? What do seniors do when the home they’ve lived in all their lives begins to crumble around them, and on a fixed income, they don’t have the means or where-with-all to repair them?
Safety is the number one priority when repairing homes. Examples of the work they do to ensure safe, healthy environments includes installing handrails, ramps and grab bars; fixing leaks and sealing gaps, cracks and holes; replacing carpet with durable flooring; installing smoke and C02 detectors; repairing kitchen and bathroom issues; painting and landscaping to reduce neighborhood blight.
When a code enforcement officer asked Rebuilding Together to help a homeowner in need, they were taken aback by the sight of Debra’s home. A widow and retired Kindergarten teacher, she had been living in her home for 40 years. Roof leaks and water damage caused significant problems even before Hurricane Irma ripped almost half of her roof off. She lived in this for eight months with no family, insurance or means to fix it and was deathly afraid of losing her home and pets. Thanks to JWR Construction Services and a team of partners brought together by Rebuilding Together Broward, Debra’s home is now fully restored.
Currently, Rebuilding Together is raising funds to restore the home of Cindy Bizier, who lost her grandson in a tragic house fire. Cindy’s daughter, Autumn, struggled with drug addiction and Cindy had called the Department of Children & Families multiple times to no avail worried about her grandson’s safety. Her fears were realized in March 2009 when fire erupted while Autumn slept and three-year-old Aiden was trapped in the garage. A heart-shaped scorch mark remains on the wall above where he was found curled up with his dog.
“When I visited her home for the first time – to say it took me a couple of days to recover was an understatement,” said Miller, with tears welling up in her eyes. “She tried so hard to protect that child. That’s what breaks my heart. I feel like we’ve already failed this lady once and there’s just no understanding that. So I want to help her put her life back together.”
Miller Construction is taking the lead on the project, committing 100 percent of their time as a gift to Bizier. They’ve raised close to $40,000, but need an additional $60,000 to begin. Please consider contributing directly to this project at http://bit.ly/CindysHome or committing in-kind work.
In addition, Rebuilding Together has identified four communities of promise for revitalization where they are partnering with local governments as well as nonprofits to bring services: the City of Dania Beach, Pompano Beach, Unincorporated Broward County and most recently the City of Fort Lauderdale has invested in their work. “We’ve already done 20 homes, and this year we’re looking to do 60 homes in the historic Dorsey Riverbend community just north of Sistrunk Boulevard and east of I-95,” said Martin, adding, “We are able to make their programs more efficient by leveraging their dollars with community support.”
Having completed physical rehab on over 90 homes in Dania Beach already, Michael Chen, Executive Director of the Dania Beach CRA, said the CRA applied for more city funding to expand Rebuilding Together’s ability to work in the area. “It’s a win, win, win! Our neighborhoods are improved. They are looking better. The CRA is leveraging it’s public dollars to the benefit of the community, and we’re helping the group perform the services they were designed for.”
Through partnerships with Church United, which mobilizes volunteers from multiple churches, corporate relationships with companies like Home Depot and Ultimate Software, and arrangements with smaller companies and realtor associations, Rebuilding Together often coordinates large scale volunteer days, working on six to eight homes in a day. “We take the ‘let’s go paint someone’s home’ and turn it into a community event,” Martin said.
For example, more than 150 volunteers from Team Depot and others came out for a Martin Luther King Day of Service in January 2020, revitalizing six homes in Unincorporated Broward’s BMSD community.
Nadene Rose, Store Manager of the North Lauderdale Home Depot and the District’s Community Captain representing eight stores, explained that giving back to the community is one of Home Depot’s core values. “One of our slogans is ‘You can do it – We can help,’ so our aim is to make sure the community knows we can help, and as a result, our associates are volunteering their services. While COVID-19 made last year challenging for large groups of volunteers to get out in the field, if I go back to 2019, I would say we did 50 projects in a year, and I like to use Rebuilding Together as our nonprofit because of the relationship with have built over the years. They love the community, elderly too, and we love the community, and together we have built this force.”
Rose said the majority of their projects are veteran related. “We identify veterans who have served so willingly and bravely for this country and after coming out, their homes are in such deplorable condition, and financially they are not able to renovate or move around in the homes. Some of them are older… When we transform that home and see the joy on the face of the person we’ve helped out – the feeling you get is second to none!”
Stephanie Gunderson, director of outreach at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale has participated in several volunteer days with Rebuilding Together, and she agrees. “I remember one older gentlemen we served who had lost his son. He came out of his home, was just so happy and wanted to connect with the people who were serving his home. We saw that with many of the residents, and the volunteers absolutely love it. Everyone is given matching shirts. We feel very united as a team even though its many different churches coming together, and it shows you that when you are providing a little bit for somebody how far it goes.”
Part of a national organization with affiliates throughout the country, Rebuilding Together was started by a church in Midland, Texas. Some men from their Bible Study partnered with the YMCA to help seniors with handyman projects on a single day in April. This annual event was affectionately called Christmas in April and grew as other churches followed their model. Finally, about 30 years ago Rebuilding Together was formalized and designated April as Rebuilding Together Month.
As Rebuilding Together prepares for upcoming volunteer days, here’s how you, your church, organization or company can get involved:
- Sign up to be informed of upcoming service days at rebuildingtogetherbroward.org
- Become a social media friend on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @RTBrowardCounty
- Get your group, school, scout troop, Rotary Club, business associates thinking about service.
- Skilled tradesmen, such as plumbers, electricians and construction workers can volunteer any time.
- In-kind and cash donations are always welcome at rebuildingtogetherborward.org
- Gift cards for household goods are also in need.
Read more about Rebuilding Together Broward County at the following links: