The Washington Post

In Alexandria, nearly 600 home-repair volunteers demonstrate remodel citizenry

Meaghan Smiley, left, cleans up the garden beds with Debbie Griffin as part of the Rebuilding Together Alexandria service effort. (Liz Vance/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

After an evening of rain, Saturday morning dawned bright blue as hundreds of Rebuilding Together Alexandria volunteers assembled at the First Baptist Church of Alexandria to mark National Rebuilding Day with drills, hammers and caulk.

As part of the annual national initiative, the organization, which works year-round to help low-income residents maintain their homes, planned to make household upgrades and repairs for 40 Alexandria families. Mayor William D. Euille and City Council member Tim Lovain were among those on hand to welcome the nearly 600 volunteers, who expressed relief at the clear skies as they lined up for check-ins, T-shirts and doughnuts.

The workers — divided into teams sponsored by employers, churches and community service organizations — were headed to houses across the city. Rebuilding Together Alexandria gives priority to houses that need emergency repairs and those that have safety issues, and the repairs are guided by a new 22-point set of standards developed with the National Center for Healthy Housing. Common repairs, in addition to larger electrical and plumbing issues, include installing grab bars, wheelchair ramps, smoke detectors and door and window locks.

As the teams prepared to disperse, Rebuilding Together Alexandria’s board chairman, Donald Holley, gave parting advice. “Remember the three rules of today: Don’t get hurt! Don’t get hurt! Don’t get hurt!” Addressing safety issues was high on the group’s list of priorities. The nearby stacks of fire extinguishers and first aid kits waiting to be distributed would help the homes that were about to be refurbished stay that way.

A team from Fairlington United Methodist Church headed to their assigned house: a modest Cape Cod owned by Virginia, 92, who asked that only her first name be used. She has lived in the tidy white house for 74 years; it’s where she and her late husband raised their son. Her affection for home and family is evidenced by the photographs that crowd the shelves and walls. The house was built in the early 1940s, she remembers, when supplies were diminished by World War II.

“We got the last bathtub and stove in Arlington County!” she said proudly.

Virginia has been widowed for 44 years, and home maintenance has proved challenging. There was water damage on the ceiling, a damaged walkway, leaky basement windows and there were drainage problems on one side of the house. The windows were what bothered her the most; if nothing else was done, she said, she hoped they could be fixed. She smiled when she saw the stack of new ones.

Outside the house, the team members were assigned jobs. Pointing to Jessica Killeen, the team captain said, “You said your dad was handy.” John Killeen stepped forward. Although both have been involved in service projects all their lives, it was father and daughter’s first time volunteering together.

“My dad is good at this stuff, and I want to get good at this stuff,” Jessica Killeen said. A recent law school graduate, she wanted to get more involved in the community. “I’m from Alexandria, I grew up in the church, and I thought this was a good opportunity.”

By the end of the day, Virginia’s house would be transformed. The ceiling had been painted. The yard was tidy, with a new concrete front walk. The windows were installed.

“It’s got its problems,” she said. “But I love my little house.”

Liz Vance is a freelance writer and photographer.


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