Giving homes some TLC

A local group aimed at helping Petaluma's veterans with basic home repairs is looking for more veterans to apply for assistance.

Two times a year, in April and October, teams of volunteer electricians, carpenters, carpet-layers and landscapers fan out across the Petaluma area and help low-income people with home repairs. The work teams, usually comprised of about 6 to 10 people, are coordinated by Rebuilding Together Petaluma, an 18-year-old chapter of a national organization, Rebuilding Together. Headed by former city councilmember Jane Hamilton, the Petaluma group provides a volunteer support for the elderly and veterans who could not otherwise afford to repair their homes.

"It was a godsend," said Bob Wahl of their appearance last April at his west side home. "They put a roof over the solarium, fixed doors and gates, trimmed up the branches on the trees in the backyard, did a general clean up. It was just a mass of people, and they were very organized."

The U.S. Army veteran, 69, added, "It worked out very well. I was very pleased."

Hamilton explained, "We repair the homes of low-income people free of charge. We do that with a network of skilled and unskilled volunteers."

Those volunteers include tradesmen in all fields, plus donations and discounts from by local businesses such Lowe's and SC Barns Fencing, and business sponsors like Wells Fargo and Friedman's Home Improvement. The City of Petaluma also contributes from its allocation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides the needed base funding.

"Almost all of our clients are elderly and/or disabled," said Hamilton. "Usually both."

Sears Holdings is another key revenue source for Rebuilding Together, through their national Heroes at Home grant program, which specifically targets veterans of any era who need work done on their homes. The local office takes applications all year from low-income persons eligible for their services, and usually there's one or two veterans in the pool of applicants.

"But this year we don't have any," said Hamilton. "So we're looking for a veteran on whose behalf we could apply for this grant."

Rebuilding Together Petaluma's next workday is April 19, but in order for them to get the Sears Heroes at Home grant, they need eligible veterans to apply by Feb. 3. Applications can be made by a simple online form at their website, rtpetaluma.org.

Hamilton took the position of executive director about six years ago, and she gets high marks from those who work with her. "She's the key -#8211; she knows everything about everything," said Frank Jennings, who heads up one of the work teams sent out to apply their collective skills at a jobsite.

Victoria O'Neil, the organization's program director, is usually seen on site to help set up and oversee work projects. In the past year alone, Rebuilding Together Petaluma has completed 51 home repair projects -#8212; not just the two workdays, but on an as-needed basis year-round. Jobs can include replacing a porch, flooring or windows; putting on a new roof; plumbing leaks; electrical repairs and other home improvement needs.

"Jane and Victoria, those two are phenomenal," said Jennings, who works at the Coast Guard training center. "They do a great job running that program."

While Jennings' military job usually provides contacts for veterans in need, he hasn't had much luck this year. "Either they don't know about the program or perhaps they're elderly and they're not in communication. Maybe they're not on the Internet, maybe they don't read the Argus-Courier -#8212; I don't know why."

Veterans like Wahl may find themselves having trouble keeping up with simple repairs, let alone more complex ones. "I'm very restricted as far as my movement goes. They did a masterful job as far as helping me on anything that was above my shoulders," he said.

"Bob had a lot of hazardous chemicals, old paint and stuff in his house," said Jennings of the job at Wahl's home, where he served as work team captain. "There were some trees overgrown in his yard -#8212; simply things he couldn't manage."

Jennings said the work his team can provide covers a wide range -#8212; he's assisted on replacing an unsafe porch, carpeting a home and updating a hazardous kitchen. "A lot of times we put safety bars in the showers," he said. "Safety is really the key projects that we do."

Wahl summarized his own experience with a recommendation. "A lot of the guys are professional tradesmen who donate their time. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who needs help," he said.

Connecting low-income people who need help with their homes, and local volunteers and skilled laborers who are willing to help them, is Rebuilding Together Petaluma's mission.

"The main thing is we really want to attract veterans to apply. But we're open for applications for anyone who's low-income and needs help with their home," said Hamilton. "We're the only organization in Petaluma that does this."

Veterans and other low-income residents of the Petaluma area can apply at rtpetaluma.org, or by phone at 765-3944.

(Contact Christian Kallen at argus@arguscou rier.com)