Alexandria Seniors Provided Free Home Repairs

Margaret Summers | 4/30/2014, 3 p.m.
Don Catlaw, 39, of Alexandria, helps clean and repair a roof on April 26 as part of Rebuilding Together Alexandria on National Rebuilding Day 2014. Nancy Shia

Oocerla Gaskill has lived in her Alexandria, Va., row house since 1952. The street is lined with two-story wooden houses similar to hers. Red brick sidewalks and trees in spring bloom add a burst of color to the neighborhood. The street, usually filled with cars, is quiet, except for the sounds of hammering and sawing from Gaskill’s house.

Gaskill, 94, is one of several seniors who benefited from the work of 600 volunteers, ranging in age from preteen to over 50. They plastered and painted, reinforced weakening home interiors with drywall and cleaned out 40 houses of low-income Alexandria seniors during National Rebuilding Day on Saturday, April 26. Rebuilding Together Alexandria (RTA), organizer of the local effort, has repaired and upgraded more than 1,700 homes of low-income individuals for free since its 1987 inception.

“Nobody’s ever helped me like this,” said Gaskill. “I’ve got family [in the area] but they don’t help. Now I’m going to stay here in my house until the day I die. [Without the repairs] I would have had to move. I don’t want to move. Moving is too much work.”

Volunteers made extensive repairs. “There’s a big crack in the master bedroom ceiling that we’ll fix with drywall,” said Suzanne Touart, 34, of Poolesville, Maryland, the “house captain” or leader of the project. “We’ll clean the backyard, replace a sump pump pipe, replace cracked window panes, and install fire and carbon monoxide detectors.”

Not far from Gaskill, James Cole, 71, insisted on helping the volunteers when he could. Blind in his right eye, and losing sight in his left, he moved about his home as volunteers spread mulch in his backyard, preparing the soil for planting.

Cole has lived in his home for 27 years. During the 2011 earthquake, part of the roof caved in and a section of his bedroom ceiling fell on his bed. “I went to RTA about my roof,” said Cole. “I was surprised when RTA inspectors found other things that needed repair.”

“I’m overjoyed and overwhelmed [about the repairs],” said Cole. “I’m disabled and no one helps me. The repairs I used to make I can’t do anymore with my limited sight.”

Outside Kenneth and Katharina Sanford’s row house, volunteers carefully applied white paint to the front yard’s old wooden picket fence. Sanford, 71, and her husband Kenneth, 81, have lived in their home for 40 years, and have been married for 45.

“I’m so happy about the free home repairs,” said Sanford, whose husband wasn’t home at the time volunteers showed up to rehab Sanford’s home. “We can’t do it. We used to. We repaired our porch. Kenneth cut the wood and I nailed the boards in place.”

“The volunteers are the nicest people,” she said. “They’re fixing my storm door, repairing a side of the house where there’s water damage, and they repaired my entire roof. I’m truly excited about this, yes I am.”

Katharine Dixon, 41, RTA’s president and CEO, said volunteers rolled up their sleeves and repaired homes in 150 cities and towns across the country.