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Students rebuild area homes

Megan O'Neil | Monday, April 10, 2006

Hundreds of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students took part in the annual Rebuilding Together project Saturday in a west side South Bend neighborhood in hopes of making individual home improvements.

The event, based at the Charles Black Recreation Center, takes place each April and helps low-income homeowners with necessary repairs such as new roofing, electrical wiring and yard work. This year’s group spread out among two dozen residences in the area.

Darrell Paulsen, who was responsible for recruiting and coordinating student volunteers, said the project strengthens ties with the local community and gives students the opportunity to give back to the South Bend area.

“I just think it is important that we recognize the fact that the people whose homes are worked on are so appreciative,” Paulsen said.

Rebuilding Together is a broad community effort, Paulsen said, which includes city officials, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

Each year the police department identifies a specific neighborhood that could benefit from the project. Residents within that area then submit an application to have their home worked on, Paulsen said.

He said skilled laborers such as roofers and electricians worked on the homes April 1. The following Saturday, students were responsible for completing non-skilled labor like scrapping, cleaning and painting.

Roughly 430 student volunteers – slightly fewer than the 500 hoped for – worked on more than 20 homes between Linden Street and Sample Street, Paulsen said.

This year, information and registration for Rebuilding Together took place via the Internet for the first time, Paulsen said, making it easier for students to get involved.

“It worked out very well,” he said. “Next year it will be even smoother.”

Financial sponsorship for the project comes from donations, grants and fundraising, Paulsen said.

“Students’ energy and commitment to the event is all that is asked of them,” Paulsen said.

Carrie Call, the director for the Saint Mary’s Office for Civic and Social Engagement, arranged for Saint Mary’s to sponsor its own house for the first time this year. The project had a personal connection for the College community, she said, because the owner of the Saint Mary’s-sponsored house is the mother of a Building Services worker on campus.

When the woman saw the transformation of her home, Call said, she was deeply appreciative.

“She just sat there smiling the whole time. She said how grateful she was, how thankful,” Call said.

Faculty and staff members joined student volunteers as well as mothers in town for Saint Mary’s Junior Mom’s Weekend, Call said. They weeded yards, planted flowerbeds, cleaned ovens, emptied basements and painted rooms throughout the day. City trucks drove around the various sites to pick up debris, Call said.

“It’s an incredibly complex network that works really well,” Call said.

Coordinators tried to place 30 volunteers at each house, Call said. While initially the amount people may have made things crowded, Call said she was amazed by how fast the work went.

It is important for volunteers to feel as though they are contributing, Call said, and Rebuilding Together does that.

“I thought it was fantastic. It’s a powerful project. You see results right away,” she said.

“I just think its what it means to be a Catholic school, to be a faith- based school. It’s part of what we do.”