Have you ever been a volunteer and wished you could see firsthand the impact you’ve had? PRO-ASHI’s members had just such an experience, saving three lives from carbon monoxide poisoning and motivating a local organization to unofficially change its tag line in response to our help.
Formerly known as Christmas in April, the national organization Rebuilding Together (RT) rehabilitates homes for low-income homeowners, particularly the elderly and those with disabilities. It makes homes “safe, warm and dry.”
In June of 2006, Cindy Gilch, RT-Pittsburgh executive director, contacted me, explaining that her group had budget overruns in the tens of thousands of dollars because its assessment teams underestimated the work that needed to be done on several projects. The teams missed “behind the wall” problems.
She asked if PRO-ASHI would train the assessors to look for and anticipate such hidden defects. Knowing that such training is difficult and often a matter of experience, I asked if she might be interested in our group not only training, but also doing inspections for Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh (RTP). It seemed a perfect match; RTP does its remodeling work in April and needed 30-40 inspections done between December and February, typically a slow time of year for inspectors here in Western Pennsylvania. Each of PRO-ASHI’s 48 members performing just one inspection at his or her convenience could serve both groups and the community as a whole. As with any volunteer undertaking, we’ve had our fair share of bumps in the road.
Joe Martelli took the reins of the project. With Malcolm Whipkey, he drafted a written agreement that was signed by RTP and ASHI. Joe developed a report form, planned how we would proceed, oversaw the operation, posted and scheduled inspections for members to perform, and, if no one was available, did them himself. All the while, he continued to coordinate activities and meetings between the two groups. PRO-ASHI’s gratitude to Joe is immeasurable.
On behalf of the chapter, Joe also volunteered to “captain” two houses. A house captain reviews the inspection report, organizes the homeowners’ repair wish list with an occupational therapist, and comes up with a game plan for the work to be done. Then, the captain takes responsibility for developing a budget within the sponsors’ donation amount, acquiring materials and any necessary skilled labor from local trade union volunteers and coordinating the repair efforts with a group of volunteers. Steve Gazzo was tapped to captain a second house. Unfortunately for us, Joe received a lucrative job offer in California and had to leave on short notice.
It is occasions like this that define the kind of group you’re working with, and now, as the president of PRO-ASHI, my crew stepped up and made me proud. Harry Thompson, a past-president, became our point of contact with RTP. After a crash course from Joe, he took over the program. Romeo Zitelli volunteered to be the second house captain. Steve Gazzo, now our membership committee chair, kept the board updated.
The house Romeo captained, like most of these projects, needed paint, minor repairs and improvements such as bath grab rails, etc. It also had repairs best left to professionals; the electric service and panel were replaced by the electrical union, and significant plumbing issues were addressed by the plumbers local.
Photo: The Rebuilding Together project got under way in a cold, steady drizzle that left the crew damp in clothing, but not in spirit.
Photo: PRO-ASHI member and “house captain” Steve Gazzo surveys a job well done for Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh.
In addition to the standard paint, minor repairs and grab rails, etc., Steve’s house needed a new porch deck. He dutifully set up the plan with the homeowner, acquired the materials, and, in addition to the volunteers the sponsor would be providing, he requested two carpenters from the union.
Steve’s project got under way in a cold, steady drizzle that left his crew damp in clothing, but not in spirit. I stopped by after the opening festivities only to find the union carpenters weren’t there. When I went back to my truck for my tool belt, loaded up for just such an emergency, I called the union labor coordinator who briefed me on the procedure; we should have called earlier. He’d sent all his extra guys home, but he’d call around and see if anyone had folks open they could send our way. Meanwhile, Steve’s crew, now with my help, (doesn’t every crew need a fat, middle aged assistant?) continued to work. Soon two union carpenters came on the scene, and progress rapidly improved. While it did take longer than the expected 4 p.m. quitting time, we wrapped up by 6 p.m., with a happy homeowner admiring her new porch.
During this single rebuilding day, RTP accomplished the following:
- Repaired, renovated or modified 29 homes.
- Refurbished two community parks.
- Painted and supplied a community center with furniture.
- Provided 10 homeowners with new electrical services and upgrades.
- Installed eight new roofs.
- Provided eight homes with plumbing upgrades.
- Installed 136 articles of adaptive equipment.
- Made an average of $10,000 worth of improvements per home.
And, as a direct result of PRO-ASHI’s involvement, three lives were saved because of CO leaks discovered during our inspections. In one instance, the HVAC contractor said the occupants of the house would not have survived the weekend had the backdrafting water heater not been discovered. As a result, RTP’s tag line unofficially changed from “safe, warm and dry” to “safe, warm, dry and saving lives.” The reward and sense of accomplishment of being involved and appreciated by this organization goes beyond words, but this is an affiliation all of our members thump their chests about and are ready to do again. Next time, a little bit older and much wiser.
is known for its annual signature event, National Rebuilding Day. This event occurs on the last Saturday of April and is the culmination of a year of planning, evaluating, training, organizing, and assembling the largest nationwide group of volunteers, from all walks of life, to repair and restore houses and non-profit facilities, revitalize entire communities, and make a lasting impression on those families and individuals who are helped.
In addition to National Rebuilding Day in April, affiliates are increasingly working year round in many parts of the country, delivering emergency series, home modifications and green building to conserve energy and consumption.
Adding Inspection Skills to the Mix Nationwide
Rebuilding Together (RT) and its 240 independent grassroots nonprofit affiliates nationwide have benefited from both skilled and unskilled volunteers to repair and rehabilitate 100,000 homes to date for low-income homeowners, particularly the elderly, the disabled, veterans and families with children.
RT and ASHI have had a memorandum of understanding since 2001. PRO-ASHI is one of several chapters that has found it beneficial to team up with their local RT affiliate, but it was the first to volunteer its members’ inspection expertise, joining labor unions, builders and other industry professionals who bring their special skills to helping others in their community.
In addition to the satisfaction of knowing they had helped others, the ASHI members found they had benefited from publicity and recognition.
At Rebuilding Together’s opening ceremony, ASHI members Bruce Thomas and Brian Mishler discussed current home inspection legislation with two local senators and Pittsburgh’s mayor. Doors were opened to the movers and shakers of the region, and the chapter gained credibility and recognition.
Photo: L to r: Jim Ferlo, Pa. state senator; Brian Mishler; and Luke Ravenstahl, Pittsburgh mayor, discuss home inspection legislation at Rebuilding Together’s opening ceremony.
In July, PRO-ASHI’s Malcolm Whipkey, Dan Howard, Steve Gazzo, Harry Thompson and Brian Mishler met with Cindy Gilch, RT Pittsburgh executive director, and John White, RT regional vice president. Bob Kocelick, ASHI director of legislation and chapter relations, participated via speakerphone.
The chapter agreed to revise its inspection report form to be more adaptable so that it could be used in any region and to make it available in electronic format. PRO-ASHI members also will develop operating procedure to share with other chapters. Dan Howard, through the ASHI Public Relations Committee, will make the report and the procedure available to all ASHI chapters.
Based on his chapter’s experience, Mishler recommended having the following in place before committing to an agreement with an RT affiliate:
- Have at least one member, preferably two, who are willing to dedicate the time required to coordinate the efforts of your volunteers. This is a time-consuming task, especially the first year.
- Get the support of your chapter’s board of directors, and after that, the general membership. Many hands lighten the load.
- Make sure your volunteers are computer-savvy; e-mail is the best way to communicate both scheduling and report delivery.
- Contact your local RT affiliate, and see how many houses it works on each year. It varies. Some only work in the spring; others work all year. To find the local affiliate, see www.rebuildingtogether.org or call 800- REHAB-9.