In 35 years of working, Herbert Toney had never taken a vacation. He was always on the job, whether as a steamfitter or an electrician. And when he went home it was no different. Everything in his Alexandria home has his fingerprints on it — the sheds, the garden, the roof. Even the decorative shelves he made for his son, Joe, with Christmas trees and crescents carved into them are examples of his work.
Now, at 83, the Korean War veteran could only watch from a lawn chair as others do the work he once did. “I can’t do it anymore. All I can do is walk around the house,” Toney said.
Last month, Rebuilding Together Alexandria, a nonprofit organization, enlisted 100 volunteers to help winterize 25 homes for low-income families and homeowners in Alexandria. Volunteers caulked doors and windows, installed programmable thermostats, and replaced and painted gutters, among other tasks.
The hardest part for Toney was being a spectator. By himself, he had added or remodeled the kitchen, bathroom, two half-baths, a playroom and the garden.
“My dad can do everything, and he has maintained this house from the day he set foot in this house,” his daughter, Ginger Toney-Timmons, 49, said. “If the roof needed to be repaired, he repaired it. If the furnace needed to be replaced, he put it in. He’s been able to maintain this house his whole life.”
For about 27 years, Rebuilding Together Alexandria has renovated homes.
“We know there are many low-income homeowners who are financially and physically unable to do the work themselves,” said Katharine Dixon, executive director of Rebuilding Together Alexandria. “We not only fix their homes, but the comfort in which they live in their home, replacing furnaces so it’s warm or installing handrails. The work we do revitalizes communities as well. We’re fixing up neighborhoods.”
The help the Toney family received started when Odessa, Herbert’s wife, submitted an application to the nonprofit group in December 2010. Their family members said no one was aware until after she died, in 2011.
“It would be especially touching to her to see how far it’s come, because she was the work behind this.” Toney-Timmons said.
Gary A. Officer, president and chief executive of Rebuilding Together, said he enjoyed the fellowship of neighbors using their Saturday morning to help struggling homeowners.
“We try to find the most needy and deserving families that, because of an income loss or not having the resources to maintain the home, the home has fallen into despair,” Officer said. “There is a spirit of volunteerism that is embedded in our culture. There is something about neighbors helping neighbors, and volunteerism, and helping people in need. Regardless of income, regardless of race, that makes us unique. This project is an embodiment of that.”