‘We have the skill set and the willingness’: Volunteers repair 22 Portland homes as part of National Rebuild Day

The sounds of pressure washers and power tools rang out Saturday morning as a team of about 20 volunteers helped repair the North Portland home of 81-year-old Vera Harris.

The volunteers — most of whom are employees of Pavilion Construction — were participating in National Rebuild Day, an annual event providing home repairs to low-income, elderly and veteran homeowners, including 22 in Portland.

Instead of only trained construction crews, the volunteers were employees from across Pavilion Construction, including project engineers, accountants and senior executives. They were tasked with getting Harris’s home back into shape, helping repaint the kitchen, doing yard work, replacing hardware, repairing broken windows and cleaning things out of the house that Harris no longer needed — all free of charge.

“Vera is amazing, and there’s a lot of amazing people that have things that we could take care of,” said Andrew Growan, Pavilion Construction’s director of safety. “We have the means, we have the skilled labor, we have the ability to come out and help clean up and kind of make things right and get things to a safe place.”

The nationwide event typically occurs the last Saturday of April and is organized by national non-profit Rebuilding Together, drawing nearly 40,000 volunteers to help repair over 1,500 homes and community centers around the country each year, said Mike Malone, the Portland branch’s executive director.

The organization, which changed its name from “Christmas in April” in the early 2000s, has been helping repair homes in Portland for 31 years, Malone said. About 40 different companies and organizations beyond Pavilion Construction performed similar work Saturday across the city.

Applications to receive assistance on National Rebuild Day are distributed through Multnomah County case workers and local community organizations and nonprofits, including Meals on Wheels, Urban League of Portland and Latino Network, Malone said. After the homes are selected, Rebuild Together pairs each project with a team of volunteers with the skills necessary for completing the repairs, which sometimes includes electrical work and plumbing, he said.

Rebuild Together pays for all of the materials used on National Rebuild Day and volunteers donate their time and labor, Malone said. In the past 30 years, he said there has not been a single injury reported among the event’s 35,000 Portland volunteers.

“The volunteers get there at 8 in the morning and say, ‘There’s no way we’re getting this done,’” Malone said. “But at 3 in the afternoon, they’re done, they’re sweaty and tired and they have a smile on their face.”

Pavilion, in its first year participating in the program, sent workers to Harris’s home on North Haight Avenue in Portland’s Boise neighborhood.

From inside her plant-filled living room, Harris and her granddaughter, 37-year-old Lakeisha Harris, watched as volunteers bustled in and out of the house.

Vera Harris, 81, sitting in the living room of her North Haight Avenue home where she has lived for more than 40 years.Catalina Gaitán

Vera Harris said she moved into the house in 1970 and raised her three sons and two daughters there. For the past four decades, the home has been a hub for both her family and their surrounding community.

“We always had a house full of kids,” she said. “This house was where all the kids would come and hang out.”

Vera Harris had a career in drywall insulation and said she was always able to take care of home repairs by herself. But in recent years, she said, mobility issues have made it too unsafe for her to keep up with necessary repairs.

One of the biggest projects of the day was repairing a broken wheelchair ramp that leads into the backyard garden, Harris’s favorite place to visit, Lakeisha Harris said.

Lakeisha Harris is her grandmother’s caretaker and said her children, ages 18 and 2, are getting to experience growing up in her grandmother’s home the same way she did. The repairs made during National Rebuild Day will help keep the home safe and welcoming for her kids and future generations of the Harris family, she said.

Midway through Saturday’s workday, the repairs coming along on schedule, Growan said helping fix up the Harris family home felt “awesome.”

“We have the skill set and the willingness to do it,” he said. “Just being in the community, we really wanted to get out there and help.”

— Catalina Gaitán; follow them on Twitter @catalinagaitan_