“Many of these people don’t have to make payments on the house, but they don’t have the funds to keep up, either,” says Ron Berenson, HandyWorker program coordinator. East Valley doesn’t have enough funds to keep up with demand either. While the City of Los Angeles—which fully funds the program—has reduced annual funding by 25 percent, to $500,000, applications are up because of the ailing economy, he says.
Carmen Nevins, 83, says her 1937 two-bedroom house in Van Nuys, California, needed all sorts of work. Not painted in more than a decade, the walls were filthy. She hired a painter, only to find out that he charged exorbitant fees to paint one room. Then, through the East Valley HandyWorker Program, she was able to get the rest of the interior painted. “My husband could paint, but since he passed away, there’s been no one to help,” says Nevins, a Nicaraguan immigrant. “I get afraid of the contractors because I felt one of them overcharged me.”
Yolanda Gonzales (no relation to Anne), 51, had no one to help her, either. She was able to buy a home in Garden Grove, California, for herself and her daughter with money she received from her husband’s life insurance when he died in a house fire. “I felt it would be a way to make sure we had a place to live forever,” she says. But like Nevins, she can’t keep it up by herself. Her health problems have made it difficult to do housework.
Rebuilding Together volunteers installed grab bars and a handheld showerhead. They replaced a toilet, repaired bathroom flooring, and installed an electric garage door opener. They also repaired her backyard fence, which homeless people were jumping over. Gonzales says she feels quite fortunate to have received the help because she knows how so many people struggle to maintain a home.
“My whole life was worry. Now I don’t need to worry all the time,” she says. “What they did was give me a new life."
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