Rebuilding Together Focuses on Safe, Healthy Housing

By Jan Sommerfeld
RSVP director

   Rebuilding Together Fox Valley is a small nonprofit with a big mission – rebuilding lives.

   The organization revitalizes homes for low-income older adults and people with disabilities who own their homes – at no cost – to keep them safe, warm and independent.

Chip Wood installs a grab bar for a homeowner.

   The organization’s next big event is National Rebuilding Day, which will be held from

8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 22, in the West Appleton Neighborhood.

   The event will be held in conjunction with Building A Healthy Neighborhood, a revitalization program that focuses on home modifications and repairs, while building social connectedness, training volunteers and improving the safety of the neighborhood.

   Chip Wood, Rebuilding Together executive director, said that last year – despite the pandemic – volunteer crews made many repairs in the neighborhood. For instance, a crew from Fox Communities Credit Union provided 80 modifications and repairs for three homes in one day!

   They are expecting to make a big impact this spring, too.

   “We are going to make homes safe and healthy with a couple hundred volunteers,” Wood said.     

“We are taking extra precautions this year to make sure we can operate safely.”

   Wood explained that they will sanitize work areas, provide masks and make sure projects are socially distanced. In conjunction with safety precautions, they also will be limiting the number of volunteers working on each project during National Rebuilding Day.

Holly DeLong sands a handrail.

Fall Prevention

   Wood is passionate about fall prevention and said Rebuilding Together is working with the Aging & Disability Resource Centers in Outagamie and Winnebago counties, Finding Balance Together and local fire departments on solutions.

Wood said that last year, fire departments in Neenah, Menasha, Appleton and Oshkosh reported 2,800 Emergency Medical Service calls relating to falls. That figure is 20 percent of all calls, he said.

   “Wisconsin’s leading cause of death is people falling,” he said. “We are working very closely with other organizations to do falls prevention initiatives.”

   This is where the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program comes in: Rebuilding Together is looking for an “A-Team,” a group of two or three volunteers to install grab bars, stair rails, tub transfer benches, night lights and nonslip bath mats. Since one of the primary focus areas of RSVP is improving older adults’ capacity for independent living, this is a great service activity for volunteers.

   “The idea for Fall Prevention is to have a very targeted intervention,” Wood said. “In and out in a very short amount of time with just a couple of volunteers.”

   Brent Bowman, the organization’s development and outreach manager, said it is a 1- or 2-hour project, but it can make all the difference in the world to a homeowner.

   “We can train almost anyone who has a passion,” Bowman said. “We can equip them with the tools and materials. They can head out in an afternoon and do one or two houses, depending on their schedule.”

   Wood agrees.

   “Once they get trained, they can have a big impact,” he said.

Second Saturday

   The second Saturday of every month Rebuilding Together and volunteers meet at 8 a.m. at a home to complete as many modifications and repairs as possible. The organization provides all the tools and materials, plus an onsite house captain to provide leadership and direction to complete the project successfully.

   “We will knock out at least one project before noon,” Wood said. “You can change a life before lunch.”

   Second Saturday is an opportunity for volunteers to learn new skills and make a difference in the community. Homeowners are overwhelmed with thankfulness and appreciation.

   Wood said volunteers do not need construction skills.

   “The great thing with grab bar installation is that once volunteers have a little bit of training, they will be able to do it,” he said. “With a little bit of training, people can have a big impact on older adults in our communities.”