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People Helping People

Nonprofit rehabilitates seniors' neighborhood homes

The combination of private and public funds buys supplies and pays professional contractors for major home repairs, such as roofing or plumbing. A team drawn from 1,500 volunteers aids in other repairs.

When the home is done, a smaller group of volunteers "adopts" the house, adding extra touches like porch swings, flowerpots and landscaping, and replacing mailboxes, for example. Most of the work is done on the homes' exteriors

Annie Hardison, 73, who has lived in her single-story, two-bedroom house since 1976, was among the first East Side residents to benefit.

Hardison's roof was leaking in the living room, kitchen and one of her bedrooms. She paid a contractor $800 to fix the problem, but when the leaks returned, she couldn't afford to do more.

People Helping People Together hired roofers, and the leaks finally stopped. In addition, workers installed central heat and air conditioning, added insulation, painted the siding, installed guard rails on the porch steps, repaired the water stains on her ceilings and spruced up her small yard.

The impact of the effort has gone beyond simply fixing homes like hers, Hardison said. When she moved in, East Side was a modest but neat neighborhood of one-story brick or wood-sided homes. About 20 years ago, she said, the neighborhood fell prey to drug dealers. People abandoned their homes, empty lots filled with trash, and sneakers began appearing on telephone wires on every block — a code for where to buy drugs.

Restoring neighborhood pride

The rehab effort has re-instilled neighborhood pride — a signal Hardison believes residents are sending to drug dealers that the "neighborhood is back."

"When you are able to sit out on your porch and tend your flowers, I think that's the grandest thing in the world," she said.

In October, Wright was honored by AARP Tennessee with the Andrus Award for Community Service and given a check for $2,500 to continue the organization's efforts, which Wright says "transform entire neighborhoods, by renovating one house at a time."

Anita Wadhwani is a reporter based in Nashville.

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