‘We have the skills and the will’: Volunteers repair 22 Portland homes as part of National Reconstruction Day

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The sounds of pressure washers and power tools rang out Saturday morning as a team of around 20 volunteers helped repair the North Portland home of 81-year-old Vera Harris.

The volunteers — most of whom are Pavilion Construction employees — were participating in National Rebuild Day, an annual event providing home repairs to low-income, elderly and veteran homeowners, including 22 in Portland.

Rather than being limited to trained construction crews, the volunteers were Pavilion Construction employees, including project engineers, accountants and senior managers. They were tasked with fixing up Harris’ house, helping repaint the kitchen, doing yard work, replacing equipment, fixing broken windows and cleaning things around the house that Harris didn’t. needed more – all for free.

“Vera is amazing, and there are a lot of amazing people out there who have things we could take care of,” said Andrew Growan, Pavilion Construction’s director of security. “We have the means, we have the skilled manpower, we have the ability to go out and help clean up and fix things and get things safe.”

The national event usually takes place on the last Saturday in April and is organized by the national non-profit organization Rebuilding Together, attracting nearly 40,000 volunteers to help repair more than 1,500 homes and community centers across the country. each year, said Mike Malone, executive director of the Portland branch.

The organization, which changed its name from “Christmas in April” in the early 2000s, has been helping repair homes in Portland for 31 years, Malone said. About 40 different companies and organizations beyond Pavilion Construction carried out similar work Saturday across the city.

Requests for National Reconstruction Day assistance are being distributed by Multnomah County social workers and local community organizations and nonprofits, including Meals on Wheels, Urban League of Portland and Latino Network, Malone said. . Once homes are selected, Rebuild Together pairs each project with a team of volunteers with the skills to carry out repairs, which sometimes include electrical and plumbing work, he said.

Rebuild Together pays for all materials used on National Rebuild Day and volunteers donate their time and labor, Malone said. In the past 30 years, he said there have been no reported injuries among the event’s 35,000 volunteers in Portland.

“Volunteers come in at 8 a.m. and say, ‘There’s no way we’re doing this,'” Malone said. “But at 3 p.m. they’re done, they’re sweaty and tired and they have a smile on their face.”

Pavilion, in its first year of participation in the program, sent workers to the Harris home on North Haight Avenue in Portland’s Boise neighborhood.

From inside her plant-filled living room, Harris and her granddaughter, 37-year-old Lakeisha Harris, watched the volunteers come in and out of the house.

Vera Harris, 81, sits in the living room of her North Haight Avenue home where she has lived for more than 40 years.Catalina Gaitan

Vera Harris said she moved into the house in 1970 and raised her three sons and two daughters there. For the past four decades, the house has been a hub for his family and the surrounding community.

“We always had a house full of kids,” she said. “That house was where all the kids came and hung out.”

Vera Harris made a career out of drywall insulation and said she was always able to handle home repairs on her own. But in recent years, she said, mobility issues have made it too dangerous for her to keep up with needed repairs.

One of the biggest projects of the day was fixing a broken wheelchair ramp that leads to the courtyard garden, Harris’ favorite place to visit, Lakeisha Harris said.

Lakeisha Harris is her grandmother’s caretaker and said her children, aged 18 and 2, are learning to grow up in her grandmother’s house the same way she did. Repairs made on National Reconstruction Day will help keep the home safe and welcoming for her children and future generations of the Harris family, she said.

Midway through Saturday’s workday, with repairs proceeding on schedule, Growan said helping fix the Harris family’s home was “brilliant”.

“We have the skills and the will to do it,” he said. “Just being in the community, we really wanted to get out there and help out.”

— Catalina Gaitan; @catalinagaitan_

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