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Volunteers rebuild Petaluma veteran’s home

World War II veteran Albert Pericou typically leads a quiet life in his east Petaluma home.

But, things were a little louder than usual last week as nearly 20 volunteers bustled around the 89-year-old’s house, armed with power tools, hammers and wheelbarrows to make some much-needed improvements to his aging 1960s-era home.

The Oct. 14 workday was part of a partnership between local nonprofit Rebuilding Together Petaluma and Home Depot, who worked together to recruit volunteers and skilled contractors to donate their time to tear down overgrown weeds and landscape Pericou’s backyard, fix the sagging floors and install new fixtures in his bathrooms, add a working cook-top to his kitchen, repair stairs and flooring, install grab bars and add a new washer and dryer, with Home Depot donating $10,000 in store credit to cover the cost of materials.

Pericou sat on his couch and observed, with awe, the flurry of activity that continued despite a deluge of rain outside.

“I just can’t believe it,” said Pericou, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946. “I’m just an average guy … I never imagined anything like this.”

He broke into a wide grin as he walked outside to see that his backyard, which had been overrun with six-foot-tall weeds, was cleaned and filled with mulch.

“The yard looks great,” Pericou said. “It doesn’t even look like the same place.”

For John Bonetti, a store manager at Home Depot in Vacaville, who was spreading mulch across the backyard, that moment made the soaking wet work worth it.

“To see his face when he walked out and the smile and the thumbs up - that’s what it’s all about,” Bonetti said.

The project was part of the 20th annual effort by Rebuilding Together Petaluma and other local businesses and organizations to assist low-income homeowners, senior citizens and veterans. More than 240 volunteers signed up for the workdays that spanned from Oct. 13 to Oct. 15, with crews fanning out across the city to repair four homes, according to Executive Director Jane Hamilton.

Volunteers also spent hours working to restore the wetlands at Alman Marsh, rebuild a garden at McKinley Elementary School, repair a future group home for veterans and revamp a new building for the nonprofit, with material and financial donations pouring in from 20 local businesses and a variety of individual donors.

By the end of the year, the nonprofit will have put 639 volunteers to work on 62 home repair and civic improvement projects, with the skilled volunteer labor and in-kind contributions totaling up to $517,000 in home improvements for homeowners in need throughout Petaluma, according to Hamilton.

Pericou, who has lived in Petaluma since 1973, was connected with the nonprofit by the city’s lone code enforcement officer Joe Garcia, who he met when Garcia responded to his home about a complaint of overgrown weeds in 2015.

After the men talked, Garcia said he recognized that Pericou was lacking in resources and struggled with limited mobility, so he worked with local law enforcement and fire agencies to clean up weeds and revamp the front yard this year. Garcia connected Pericou with volunteer resources from the police department, and when he noted the veteran’s home was in disrepair, he put Pericou in touch with Rebuilding Together Petaluma staff.

Interim Police Chief Ken Savano, who stopped by to see the project, praised Garcia’s effort to lend a hand in the community.

“We are in the service of public service,” he said over the din of the construction. “When we can take a few minutes and stop and help someone in need, that’s what we’re about. It doesn’t just have to be when things have gone sideways – we can create a better quality of life, one house at a time, one person at a time.”

Garcia said he’s happy to play a role in improving Pericou’s safety while giving back to his hometown.

“It’s kind of part of the job but it’s also part of being someone who takes value in their community as well,” he said. “Our goal is to find a solution to a problem and the quicker we can do that, the easier we can make it for people.”

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com.)

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