By Jewell Cardwell
Beacon Journal columnist
Published: April 30, 2012 – 12:47 AM | Updated: May 1, 2012 – 11:25 AM
While some folks were grumbling Saturday about the cold and the rain, 14 area homeowners were literally jumping for joy at the boundless blessings raining down on them courtesy of Rebuilding Together Greater Cuyahoga Valley.
Absolutely nothing could dampen their enthusiasm for much-needed home repairs, yard cleanup, landscaping and more that they received this day for free.
Frank “Stew” Breakall and his wife, Della, had a hard time containing their gratitude. “I am just blown away by all that’s been done at our house,” the emotional 88-year-old Akron man said. “This is the hand of God! He’s shown his concern for us by sending all of these people.”
The dedicated crew of volunteers working at Breakall’s home — headed by Dave Harris (house captain), Victoria Rarrick (house ambassador) and Cyndi Kane (safety director) — was from the Akron Area Board of Realtors (also known as AABOR).
Little did this homeowner know when he applied in September just what awaited. The volunteer crews completed an impressive list of repairs all around the house, from replacing exterior doors and glass-block windows to replacing a toilet and shower head to planting tomatoes and peppers in the back and flowers out front.
Rebuilding Together Cuyahoga Valley — part of a national campaign and known over the years by a few other names, including Christmas in April and Rebuilding Together Summit County — is in its 17th year of carrying out its all-important and urgent mission of keeping low-income elderly and disabled homeowners “safe, warm and dry.”
Among the volunteers sprinkled about Breakall’s property were Paul Albanese of Green, who was painting the ceiling; and Debbie Zarconi of Akron and Sandy Locascio of Cuyahoga Falls, washing windows, blinds and curtains. Shelby Harris, 17, worked with her father and Rebuilding Together veteran Dave. “He told me to wash everything that doesn’t move!” she joked.
Sandy Naragon, AABOR chief executive and volunteer coordinator this day, said of the scope of the work: “This is going to mean a world of difference to them. Yes, we’re making it prettier. But more importantly, it’s safer.”
Nellie Jones’ Akron home was on the receiving end of its own tender loving care from the Male Excellence Network, eight African-American students from the University of Akron who are out to raise the bar on academic excellence and community involvement.
“We’re all about staying in college, sharpening our professional profiles and public speaking skills, dressing for success and getting out the word about the importance of voting,” said group member Alfred Crawford II, a junior biology major from Macedonia.
Impressive young men
Paul Holm, executive director of Rebuilding Together, and his second in command, Brandy Brady, were especially impressed with the Male Excellence Network.
Holm explained that volunteer groups of 15 or more were asked to raise $2,500; AABOR far exceeded that goal with $4,500. Groups of fewer than 15, , like the Male Excellence Network, were expected to ante up $1,000.
“Members of that group, who only signed up two weeks ago, fell a little short of the $1,000,” Holm said. “Their member Alfred Crawford II drove all the way up to Lorain, where I was at the time, to give me their money. He also won an iPad in our raffle drawing, but he was so bothered about not being able to meet their goal that he donated the iPad back.”
“This was a group who just came to us from out of the blue,” Brady added. “And they’ve turned out to be so amazing, dedicated and well mannered. They’ve impressed me every step of the way.”
Jones, a retired chef, was so grateful for the young men’s help that she, with an assist from her son, Stephen, cooked a huge meal: potato soup, spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, coconut/pineapple, pound and red velvet cakes, and pecan and cherry pies.
Lest I forget, these volunteers did more than lift their forks. They painted Jones’ living room walls, repaired gutters, cleaned a backyard pond, trimmed bushes, planted six new bushes and a mix of flowers, cut grass, mulched, installed carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, and repaired a side gate. Rounding out the network were volunteer coordinator Troy Roebuck of Akron, a freshman nursing major; Brandon Rhone Peterson of Cleveland, sophomore anthropology; Christopher Holley of Akron, freshman electrical engineering; Jeffrey Miles of Youngstown, senior English; Andre Griffin of Cleveland, junior athletic training; Ian Banks of Akron, freshman engineering; and Austin Sargent of Toledo, freshman engineering.
Ron Swedlow of Akron, who acted as house captain at Jones’ home, gave high marks to the young men and encouraged them to participate next year. He was just as impressed with Jones’ show of gratitude. “I told her I was bringing pizza for the guys,” he said, recalling the conversation. “She told me ‘Don’t you tell me not to cook!’ ”
Just as remarkable was Pam Walker, who pitched in to help the all-male group. The Akron resident was on the receiving end of Rebuilding Together’s help a couple of years ago. “They put in a new furnace when mine was on the verge of exploding,” she said. “I wanted to sleep in this morning. But when I thought about all that was done for me, I had to come.”
Work like this — some even more extensive — was taking place as far away as Kent and by volunteer groups like Westminster Presbyterian Church, GPD Group, Dominion East Ohio, Home Depot, Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, First Congregational Church of Tallmadge, Metis Construction Management/Kent State University (which did two homes), Summit County, Home Builders Association Serving Portage & Summit Counties and Church of Our Savior.
Holm said the day was a great success in spite of the bad weather.
“Most groups showed up early to work before the rain came,” Holm said. “They were able to accomplish most of the tasks they set out to do.
“The impact on these homeowners is major when I think about how much easier their lives are going to be.”
“When I ask the volunteers what this means to them, they get choked up. They see it as their privilege.
“One homeowner in Kent, Trudy Myers, who is battling a major health problem, had her front porch damaged a few years and paid someone to replace it. They put in such a porch that she could barely go out the front door and was never able to enjoy it. … First Congregational Church put on a large porch with an awning so she can go outside and relax.”
Rebuilding Together’s outreach has grown into a year-round effort performing much smaller but needed tasks.