Volunteers REACH out — helping Lents’ senior homeowners

You’ll be amazed with how many disabled homeowners in the Lents neighborhood were helped, during this 20th annual community fix-up event …

REACH Community Development’s resource development director. Laura Recko and staff member Jessica Woodruff pause for a moment while the 30-member crew works on Steve Cunningham’s house in the Lents neighborhood.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The staff and volunteers at REACH Community Development wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their annual “Paint-a-Thon” event in a big way on August 1.

But at this organization, their idea of a celebration isn’t holding a fancy catered party – it’s putting on work clothes and getting dirty while they paint and fix homes and do yard work for senior citizens who are no longer able to do so for themselves.

Hands-on revitalization projects
“The purpose of the REACH Paint-A-Thon is to help revitalize neighborhoods, primarily here in Lents,” is how Laura Recko, Director of Resource Development at REACH Community Development, put it.

“We help senior homeowners who aren’t able to do strenuous maintenance work on their homes and can’t afford to get these repairs done,” Recko told us. In addition to large volunteer-based events like this, we also hire contractors to come out and help them keep up their homes.”

The benefit to the community, Recko said, is that when homes in the neighborhood are spiffed up, it helps keep the neighborhood welcoming, neat, and safe.

Additionally, seniors, who often times are limited in their ability to have contact with the outside world – and are limited in their ability to get help in making needed repairs – regain a sense of self esteem and well-being, added Recko.

Some of the thirty volunteers from Granger Industrial Supply at this site include Lara Dalling, Rolando Calderon, Jeremy Deeney, and – on the ladder – Sydney Nelson.

Company group volunteers
We caught up with one of the teams’ work – 30 volunteers strong – at Steve Cunningham’s house in the Lents neighborhood.

“We have a thirty-member team here, from Granger Industrial Supply,” Reko smiled. “They’re doing general repair or maintenance of the house and property, including yard work and house painting.”

Jeremy Deeney, Portland branch manager of Granger Industrial Supply, said that during the week, his crew of employees helps customers in their distributorship of industrial supplies like tools, packaging, and industrial moving equipment.

“But today, none of our people are on the clock,” Deeney explained. “We’re a national company that’s been serving Portland businesses for 65 years. We see this is our opportunity to give back to a community that’s supported us. This is a tough time for elderly and disabled folks. It feels good to help out.”

-3 Although he can’t do heavy lifting, homeowner Steve Cunningham says he’s strong enough to make sure his volunteers will be well fed – with heaping servings of BBQ ribs.

Says it’s ‘incomprehensibly good’
As the Granger volunteers swirled around him – pruning bushes, fixing gutters and glazing windows – homeowner Steve Cunningham told us, “This is incomprehensibly good. Two months ago, I had reconstructive surgery to replace my left hip. They’re doing what is physically impossible for me to do now. A few months ago, I never knew this kind of organization even existed, anywhere. What they’re doing here is unbelievably wonderful.”

As the work continued, Cunningham checked his two barbecue grills, making sure they were ready to go. “They didn’t ask for it, but I’m reciprocating for their kindness by cooking up a big batch – about 10 pounds – of my famous ribs for them.”

The homeowner paused for a moment and asked, “Are you familiar with the word renaissance?  It means rebirth, revitalization, resurgence. That’s how I feel today; I’m in the middle of a renaissance.”

By mid morning, the Cunningham house is half repainted, weatherproofed, and fixed up.

Many give time, money and materials
In addition to their labor, we later learned that REACH Community Development received a $30,000 gift from The Grainger Foundation. “More than 280 volunteers helped out; we repaired 22 homes,” Recko reported. “50 business sponsors gave their time, money, and energy in the form of cash, materials, and labor donations to make this day a success.”

REACH’s Community Builders program has helped over 1,450 homeowners in the 20 years it’s been in existence, making 5,816 home repairs for senior and disabled homeowners with low incomes throughout the City of Portland.  Since the program’s inception, over 2,990 volunteers have collectively donated 22,000 hours of community service.

To learn more, visit their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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