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Program promotes revitalization of local houses

| Monday, April 4, 2016

This week’s Justice Friday series focused on informing students about the St. Joseph chapter of Rebuilding Together, a national non-profit organization whose mission is to help revitalize houses of low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners. Its focus was on St. Joseph County’s need for the program and how Saint Mary’s students can become involved in Rebuilding Together.

The talk was led by the student director of the Saint Mary’s Office of Civil and Social Engagement (OCSE), junior Maggie Carswell, and a student worker for OCSE, junior Alyssia Parrett.

Carswell said, according to the national poverty guidelines, 16.7 percent of South Bend inhabitants fall below the poverty level and 7.5 percent have an income below 50 percent of the poverty level in South Bend.

Carswell said this is an issue because oftentimes families have to give up basic survival necessities such as healthcare, transportation or proper home care.

“A family of four falling below the poverty line is making $18,000 a year,” Carswell said. “For a single adult to meet the survival guidelines in Saint Joseph County, they would need $18,000 … a family of four would need around $42,000 just to get by in Saint Joseph County.”

According to Parrett, 22 percent of married social security recipients and 47 percent of single social security recipients are dependent on social security for 90 percent of their income.

“Oftentimes, the elderly run out of social security by the end of the month,” said Parrett. “They start neglecting some of their basic expenses including housing, you see that they live in unsafe houses which leaves a big risk for injury.”

“Rebuilding Together believes that everyone deserves to live in a safe, healthy home,” Carswell said.  

Carswell explained that the organization’s volunteers help with housing repairs free of charge such as lawn clean up, painting, and gardening, while experts help with electrical and mechanical work.

Parrett said homeowner selection is done in January. In order to apply, the applicants must live in the targeted project area, own a single-family owner-occupied unit, be the primary residents, have the qualifying income according to federal poverty guidelines and be up to date on property taxes. Priority selection is given to veterans, the disabled and the elderly.  

The program came to South Joseph County in 1989 and since then 40,000 volunteers have helped improve 866 houses.

“In 2015 alone the volunteers helped 19 homes, repaired 16 roofs and restored 7 furnaces  in the Olive Street-Lincoln way area over two weekends in April,” Carswell said. 

Last year, Saint Mary’s brought around 80 volunteers that tended to 4 homes in the community.  

“A sweet old lady we helped last year kept saying, ‘girl power’ because it was all Saint Mary’s students helping with her house,” Carswell said. “[She] was so thankful and said she was going to sleep in her car that night so she could wake up and see her new house with the sunrise.

“Every year it’s different stories. It not only transforms their lives but it transforms their homes and it really transforms our community as well,” Carswell said. “We get to see our hands and how they help the community. It contributes to part of our Catholic mission of service to others.”

Rebuilding Together takes place on April 16 and lasts from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Students can contact the Director of OCSE, Erika Buhring, to sign up for Rebuilding Together. Food and transportation will be provided.

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