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Tuesday's Toolmen

Retired Tradesmen Volunteer Home Repairs

Older homeowners in Michigan in need of help with home repairs and safety modifications are in luck—they have a corps of angels just waiting to come to their rescue.

Tuesday Toolmen is a group of retired, skilled tradesmen who volunteer their time and talents to help low-income seniors in need within their community. Founded in Kalamazoo, Mich., by Annie Morgan, nearly 12 years ago to assist with the Home Repair Program sponsored by Senior Services, Inc., the concept has been replicated in cities throughout Michigan, including Traverse City.

Already a medical transport volunteer with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) with the United Way of Northwest Michigan, when a friend mentioned the Tuesday Toolmen concept to John Strunk, he took the idea and ran with it. The Traverse City group officially formed about four years ago and has helped more than 100 older homeowners with inspections and small home repairs, including installing grab bars or other barrier-free devices that give seniors in need improved safety and mobility in their homes.

According to Strunk, many retired homeowners can afford to buy the materials for minor home repairs but can't afford to hire a handyman to complete the work.

"We had one lady who bought all of the tile to redo her kitchen and bathroom, and her neighbor was going to lay it for her," Strunk said. "Her neighbor ended up moving before he could lay the tile, and she just needed someone to do the work for her. We were able to go in and finish that job for her."

The group of 10 Tuesday Toolmen in Traverse City is made up of retired teachers, a utilities serviceman and a professional woodworker, among other professions. The team meets monthly to review requests, and goes out to seniors' homes at least once a week to fulfill requests, depending on the workload.

"We all work together and share our knowledge to brainstorm and figure out the best solution for the task at hand," Strunk said. "It's a great atmosphere to work in."

RSVP receives referrals of seniors who need a hand in keeping their homes safe and secure from the Area Agency on Aging, the Grand Traverse and Leelanau Commission on aging, the local Visiting Nurse Association and social workers.

"The people we help are trying to stay in their homes as long as possible," Strunk said. "We try to make their lives easier."

Minor Home Repair, a program through Interfaith Community Services in San Diego assists homeowners ages 60+ with home repairs that they may not otherwise be able to make on their rentals or homes that they own. Volunteer handymen, most retired and over 55, install grab bars, repair leaky faucets, and repair screen doors and windows, among other tasks. The repair services are funded by an outside organization, and all work is completed on a volunteer basis.

"A few hours a month from a volunteer doing repair work can make a dramatic difference in the life of a senior," said Rebecca Steiner, director of Senior Services for Interfaith Community Services. "The self-satisfaction experienced by the volunteer in helping that senior compared to the cost of those few hours of effort is priceless."

According to "Aging in Place and Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities," a report presented before the Senate in May 2006 by AARP, 89 percent of older Americans have indicated that they want to stay in their residences for as long as possible.

"An important benefit of Tuesday Toolmen is that senior citizens who participate in the program are able to remain in their homes for a longer period of time, thus preventing premature placement in nursing homes," said Susan McQuaid, director of volunteer center/RSVP, United Way of Northwest Michigan.

In recognition of their dedication and hard work for the communities they serve, the Tuesday Toolmen were awarded the Michigan Governor's Exemplary Community Service Program Award in June 2007.

"What I'd really like to see is for more people to get involved," Strunk said. "To bring Tuesday Toolmen into their communities."


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