Teaming up for the second annual “Day of Service” event, the ReBuilding Center (RBC), a nonprofit organization that offers affordable used building materials, with the goal of building community through reuse, and the African American Alliance for Homeownership (AAAH), a nonprofit whose mission is to increase homeownership and economic stability for African Americans and other underserved individuals, came together to provide home repairs in an effort to stem displacement of long-term residents. Last year, the Day of Service teams completed ten projects for five homeowners with the help of 36 volunteers. This year, the Day of Service doubled its efforts, completing 20 projects for 13 homeowners with more than 60 volunteers!
The Day of Service began on a bright and shining Saturday morning. Volunteers met up at the ReBuilding Center over some coffee and pastries generously provided by Grand Central Bakery before setting out on their community-building adventures. Notable groups from around Portland graciously donated their time and money to the event, including Squarespace, who provided 20 volunteers; Global Shapers, a network of young people contributing to their communities, lended an additional five volunteers; prospective and current students and alumni of Oregon Tradeswomen Inc lent helping hands; Portland Youth Builders led crews, and Wells Fargo, who not only sent ten volunteers, but also donated $10,000 to purchase supplies and materials needed for the repairs. Additional financial s upport came from the Portland Housing Bureau, who provided another $10,000 for materials. As they did last year, Rose City Disposal and Recycling provided a 30-yard drop box for debris, and you can bet there was a lot of debris! Special thanks to Mississippi Pizza who donated food, and Sierra Springs for the water, to fuel the hard-working volunteers that gave up their Saturday to help their neighbors!
Repairs included exterior and interior painting, removal and repair of a rotting staircase (that allowed the resident to access her top floor for the first time in years), overgrown yard debris clean-up, demolition and re-pouring of concrete stairs, bathroom overhauls and repairs, and much more. These repairs were “not major tasks per se,” said Nathan, a volunteer, “but serve a real need for general labor… Everyone has a task list of things that you want to do and things that you can’t do whether that has to do with money, age, or ability.” Nathan went on to explain that him and his wife, Jan, give back whenever they get a chance and said “when I think about hitting that stage, I hope that there’s friends, family, or different organizations to help out.” The good Samaritan couple, who had just spent the previous day painting at their church, love to spend their time giving back to their community despite living off one income (as Jan has taken over full-time care of her mother-in-law with stage three Alzheimer’s). Jan, a long-time shopper/volunteer at the ReBuilding Center and Mississippi Avenue resident for the past 10 years, had some insight into the issue saying that it makes her sad to see the people in the area be pushed out and they are “what makes Mississippi what it is. Portland is made of unique neighborhoods and that’s why everyone wants to move here, but when you price people out, you are taking away that neighborhood-y feel.” She believes that developers and builders should respect the neighborhood that they are moving into, considering the architecture and price of the area. Having worked in property management for 30 years, Jan believes there is a way of going into a neighborhood and maintaining the character, and that it’s “not just [the developer’s duty] to build responsibly but if you’re going into a neighborhood where people have lived for a long time, you should put something back into that community.”
Certain projects, like a broken gutter system or a rotting fence, took no time at all, but made a tremendous impact in the day-to-day lives of the homeowners. Volunteers wielded tools, pulled weeds, applied concrete, and installed screen doors without hesitation. At one site, one of the family members provided musical accompaniment, playing his organ from the living room. The homeowner, Willie Loving, had been living in the house since the 1960’s and reminisced about his favorite memories in the house, watching his children grow up, and then start their own families. He spoke about how he’s seen a lot of his neighbors move away and that they were “the only ones left.” He was proud to have the repairs done during the Day of Service saying that it “makes the house better represented.” One volunteer said, “I could sense the family and workers' connection while building community together. I would definitely do this again without a doubt.”
Many homeowners shared similar experiences, noting that some changes are for the better and some for the worse. Dianne moved into her Northeast home about 25 years ago, and has witnessed the transformation of the area, “when I first moved here, the neighborhood was horrible… but now I see everyone working together… I see a lot of change, it’s getting better.” She also expressed frustration with all the letters she has been receiving weekly asking if she is interested in selling her home. Her children grew up in that home and then graduated and she now lives with her grandchildren; she says she’s not going anywhere.
Eunice has been at her home for 34 years. She says there’s good and bad in every neighborhood, but "what I don't like, is that there should be a law, concerning people coming in and putting a high building right next to you. I have a problem with that because I have to change my light bulbs to see how to prepare my food in my kitchen. I open my blinds and I'm looking straight at a wall! This house to the right of me cuts off my view up and down the street." Eunice says the Day of Service makes her feel very good and thankful for the work that is being done in her community. Eunice moved to Portland in 1979 and says she hates to see some people have to move on at a certain age, saying, “I'm thankful for people like you guys that try and help us maintain. As long as I can maintain, I plan on staying here in this neighborhood. I like it. It's close to stuff: the school, the library, and everything, close to the freeway and transit, there's traffic all the time now but at night it gets quieter. I don't see a lot of kids anymore on the street, most of them have probably grown up like my kids. The convenience store is still there, the owners have only changed one time since we moved in. That's about my story we're just trying to maintain.”
And after a day of community building, volunteers met at Stormbreaker Brewery, who poured discounted beer for the intrepid volunteers. With the help of local businesses, organizations, and volunteers, the ReBuilding Center and the African American Alliance for Homeownership were able to help build a more vibrant and just community through the Day of Service by helping stem displacement of long-term residents. We hope to continue this event in the years to come. If you would like to get involved or donate to next year’s Day of Service, every little bit helps, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Day of Service” or donate online at www.rebuildingcenter.org/give-a-gift and earmark it for “Day of Service.” Thank you to everyone for your support!