Local organizations and volunteers come together to help improve the community.By Laurie Higgins
For the third consecutive year, the Hyannis-based Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) will be coordinating a community service project called The Big Fix. On Saturday, September 29, about 125 volunteers that include HAC employees, contractors, carpenters and landscapers will all descend on one town for the day. This year they chose the town of Dennis.
“The vision of the event is to make home and landscaping improvements that will help enhance the comfort, safety and quality of life for people,” says Julie Wake, director of marketing and PR for HAC. “This year we’ve added a different demographic. For the past two years it’s been specifically focused on seniors, but this year it will be seniors, the disabled and veterans.”
For the first Big Fix in 2010, HAC had the help of AmeriCorps to do an extensive outreach in the town of Barnstable. Over 170 volunteers worked on 22 houses that year. Last year HAC chose the town of Sandwich, but had less capacity for outreach so they didn’t get as many applicants. They worked on seven houses and cleared brush and did landscaping at a low-income housing development.
It was a coincidence in timing that led HAC to expand The Big Fix beyond just senior citizens. As staffers were planning last year’s agenda, Wake received a call from Bonnie Driscoll, who asked if HAC could help her granddaughter Cayla Lemire. Lemire, an online student at Northeastern University, is wheelchair bound and her family’s ranch home was not handicap accessible. The family had hired a contractor to build an addition that would include a bedroom, sitting area and handicap accessible bathroom for Lemire, as well as a ramp into the home. The contractor abandoned the project leaving the family in the lurch.
Rich Bryant, vice president of Cape Associates Inc. and president of Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod, was assigned to oversee the task of building the ramp, but the job took on a life of its own.
“Through Home Builders a couple of us volunteered individually and I brought some of our employees from Cape Associates to help out with that project, which really started a little bit before the weekend of The Big Fix just because there was a lot of structural work to do,” Bryant says.
On the day of The Big Fix about 15 volunteers completed the ramp and Lemire rode up it into her new rooms by the end of the day. Unfortunately the rooms and the adjoining bathroom were still unfinished. Bryant agreed to oversee the completion of the job, using volunteer labor and it was finally finished in the late spring of this year.
Bryant is excited to participate in the next Big Fix and says Cape Associates strives to participate in the community and help out in any way they can. It’s just part of being a good neighbor.
HAC is hoping to help 10 to 15 homeowners in Dennis this year and has been doing a major outreach to get applicants. One of their objectives this year is to find people in need that might not be on the radar because they haven’t applied for any assistance programs in the past.
A team has been organized to help identify those in need. It includes Ryan Carr, Deborah Thompson, Nick Patsavos and Cheryl Wilson from the Dennis Police Department, Marion Prendergast from the Dennis Council on Aging, Kristen Keller from the Dennis Health Department, Alice Boyd from Bailey Boyd Associates and Adrienne Danner, Kate Ferreira, Lisa Guyon, Joe McCarthy and Julie Wake from HAC. They will hand deliver applications to those identified as being in need. Applications are also available at HAC, food pantries, the Dennis Council on Aging and the local fuel assistance program. The deadline for applications is July 30.
Homeowners are selected to receive assistance through the program based on income, repair needs and HAC’s ability to meet the request. Once the applications are in, HAC sorts through them to decide which projects they can take on. Afterwards they assign a professional contractor to each job. The contractor, along with a HAC lead person, goes out to visit the house and get to know the homeowner a little bit. At that time, they also go to assess the work that needs to be done and create a punch list so that they can gather all of the materials beforehand.
The Big Fix relies on donations of money and materials from local businesses such as Cape Associates, Home Depot, The Valle Group, Hubbards Paint and Wallpaper and Botello Lumber who have all contributed in the past.
“It’s fun because it’s not about fundraising,” Wake says. “This is strictly an awareness building with the town. We want people to know about HAC services. They’re free. We do everything from combating homelessness to facilitating home ownership and everything in between. So we really want to get the message out and introduce ourselves to people who might not have heard about us yet.”