Celebrating a Year of Excellence with the Rebuilding Together Network

November 3, 2021
by Michael Edmison, Vice President, Network Advancement at Rebuilding Together National

Rebuilding Together’s Training Institute took place in Philly this year, hosted by Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, and several affiliate leaders were recognized for their outstanding performance in 2021.  Everyday affiliates, volunteers and AmeriCorps members all around the network are doing work just like this to [Re]Build our neighborhoods and communities. Here’s to continued success and effort of our winners and all of our affiliates who are out there bringing the mission to neighbors in need!

Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s Of the Year awards:

AmeriCorps Member of the Year

Congratulations to Dani Alonso, AmeriCorps program coordinator with Rebuilding Together North Central Florida.

Dani began serving with the affiliate in the midst of COVID-19 and was crucial in building the infrastructure to launch their COVID-safe Emergency Home Repair Program:

“We gave this project to Dani as a capacity building exercise early in her term and she RAN with it--launching the program just a couple months into her term and was our primary homeowner contact throughout the program.”

During her term, Dani served as the primary contact for neighbors, subcontractors and volunteers. She improved the database system, making it more user-friendly, and strengthened the training program for future AmeriCorps members. Not only is Dani a “wizard” with technology, she’s handy with a hammer and a nail-gun and has spent her fair share of time in the field [Re]Building.

Following her AmeriCorps service term, Dani was hired on full time at Rebuilding Together North Central Florida.                                                                                                                               

Volunteer of the Year

Congratulations to Erich Sekel, volunteer with Rebuilding Together Jersey City.                         

Erich has been a board member for Rebuilding Together Jersey City for ten years and is now its chairman. Through Erich's leadership and ingenuity, especially faced with challenges the pandemic presented, Rebuilding Together Jersey City was still able to move the mission forward, safely helping those in need. Erich orchestrated working on fewer locations, carefully directing personnel, and spent more time and resources on those homes to achieve the most needed, in-depth renovation projects possible. Along the way, he kept in touch with the neighbors, assuring the work would be completed, and got it done.

Erich also serves as the associate director of Campus Ministry for Community Service at Saint Peter's University. He has been a model and encouragement to students, expanding the culture of service, community engagement and action at the university. His influence is evident in the fact that many of the  Rebuilding Together Jersey City board members are his former students.

Excellence in Programming

Rebuilding Together Kansas City started its Safe at Home program in 2007 and has experienced tremendous growth and development due to the high demand and increased need for home safety modifications. Clay McQuerry is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) and has overseen this program since its inception.

Under Clay’s leadership are two full-time project managers--one of whom is a CAPS--who have a combined 70 years of home repair and improvement experience. They complete the majority of the repairs, but also are supported by Safe at Home volunteers who regularly build wheelchair ramps and low-rise, long-tread steps.

In 2018, the affiliate became a Medicaid-Approved Provider in the state of Missouri, which has provided wonderful opportunities to utilize Medicaid waivers to install accessible showers and bathrooms for people with developmental disabilities.

Due to their strong relationship with the local hospitals, Rebuilding Together Kansas City regularly provides home safety assessments by occupational therapists and receives referrals from home health departments to modify patient homes. This April, Rebuilding Together Kansas City started a new collaboration pilot program with Children's Mercy Hospital Kansas City, which will enable them to create safer and healthier homes for their former patients and their families. In August, the affiliate was selected by the Area Agency on Aging to help start a new Minor Home Repair and Safety Modifications program and were awarded $90,000 to complete projects for the next 12 months.

Rebuilding Together Kansas City is currently working with Clay County Senior Services and North Kansas City Hospital to kickstart the first CAPABLE program in Kansas City and continues to partner with local Fire and EMS departments to follow up with their clients that require frequent lift assists.

In addition to these remarkable programs and partnerships, the affiliate’s Safety Modifications booklet has been distributed to almost 1,000 neighbors.                                                                                                                                                                    

Excellence in Community Engagement

Rebuilding Together El Paso is partnering with the YWCA, Workforce Solutions and the Department of Community and Human Development of the City of El Paso on their She Builds program. Dr. Sylvia Acosta, CEO of the YWCA, remarked, “This program is a great opportunity to lift women in El Paso out of poverty,” while Leila Melendez, CEO of Workforce Solutions, added, “We want to create opportunities for women to find employment in non-traditional sectors.”

Together, the community leaders, “want to give independent women the self-confidence and skills to take care of repairs in their own and friends’ homes, avoiding deterioration or expensive contractor bills. We also want to support women to find employment in the home repair and construction sector to improve their economic situation.”

The very first project completed took place in the heart of the community, the Transitional Living Center (TLC) of the YWCA, which houses women and children fleeing domestic violence. They are able to stay up to two years there and get needed support to transition back into the community.

Women fleeing domestic violence often only have the clothes on their back and their children in their hands. The Donations Room at the center is the first place the women visit. Rebuilding Together El Paso, supported by the office of Renee Jimenez (female owner of MNK Architects), renovated the space into a comforting, uplifting shopping experience.

As part of this She Builds project, a total of 63 female volunteers were trained in handling power tools for cutting, grinding, sanding, drilling and sawing. The tile floor was installed by the women of Floor & Décor. The core of the volunteers were several TLC women, who stayed in the project until the end. Their participation in program gave them self-confidence and one volunteer expressed she felt she could stand on her own feet again. Since the project, she was hired on by Rebuilding Together El Paso.

In addition to these volunteers, Workforce Solutions brought several others from the David L. Carrasco Job Corps Center, a school that teaches young men and women who did not finish high school or college a profession.

Rebuilding Together El Paso is working on the next She Builds project and will continue to engage those in the community, providing the opportunity for women to master skills in a non-traditional sector.

Excellence in Overall Leadership

This past year has required much of the entire Rebuilding Together network to adapt to safety protocols and funding challenges. Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada faced those obstacles head-on, identifying new funding to launch innovative, effective programming. While their Critical Home Repair Program and volunteer events served slightly less than typical total clients, the affiliate witnessed significant growth in the addition of two new permanent programs (Safe at Home and Acquisition and Rehabilitation), one temporary program (CARES) and one established program (Major Home Repair).

Safe at Home: Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada has provided critical home repairs for almost 28 years. Due to the affiliate’s growth, they hired a full-time repair specialist, who provides neighbors with new smoke detectors, CO detectors, fire extinguishers, air filters, street address numbers and grab bars. In the first year, the Safe at Home program has touched over 145 homes.

Acquisition and Rehabilitation: The affiliate is now positioned to acquire single family homes and multifamily units (up to eight units) in order to provide affordable housing to those with low-income. With a focus on veterans, they are collaborating with veteran organizations looking for housing for their clients.  Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada has already been awarded $1 million for their first acquisition from the state.

CARES: Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada partnered with Clark County to receive CARES funding, which was used specifically for those neighbors who were directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, either mandated to shelter in place for their health or who lost income due to the pandemic and needed critical repairs. Sheltering in place in a home that is not safe is not helpful, especially through the record-breaking summer temperatures of Southern Nevada. On top of that, seniors and those living with a disability were the most at-risk, so this new emergency program was vital. The affiliate served 105 neighbors in the 120-day timeframe CARES allots.

Major Home Repair: This program has grown beyond North Las Vegas to the City of Henderson with the help of increased HOME funding.

Overall, Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada increased its average annual client total from 150 to 370, even through a pandemic. They continue to expand services with the Veteran’s Home Modification Program and, thanks to the Rural Capacity Grant, have expanded services into Pahrump and Mesquite in Nevada.