The residents of 10 Lincoln County homes benefited from the efforts of more than 100 “neighbors helping neighbors keeping their homes safe, warm, and dry” during the annual Community Cares Day on Saturday, Sept. 7.
Community Cares Day is a day of mass volunteer work. CHIP Inc., the Community Housing Improvement Project, organizes and provides volunteers for the day. Established in 1984, the nonprofit helps low-income homeowners with home repairs and renovations they cannot afford or do themselves.
This year, volunteers built three ramps and two roofs, insulated a roof, fixed burst pipes, painted, and did yard work, among other tasks, said Brittany Gill, CHIP coordinator.
CHIP spends an average of $8,000 on materials for the projects every year, all from donations, Treasurer Susan Glueck said.
Volunteers from Lincoln Academy’s boarding program, Medomak Valley High School, and Stepping Stone Housing Inc. joined CHIP volunteers in the work.
Volunteers built a new deck and ramp on the front of the mobile home where Anna Bickford, 74, and Rex Bickford, 81, live with their son, David.
Rex Bickford has to help his wife of 55 years up and down the stairs to prevent falls. “All of a sudden I have come down with shaking and the signs are pointing toward Parkinson’s,” Anna Bickford said.
“With the ramp she’ll be able to at least get to the car or to the house,” Rex Bickford said. He has mobility issues of his own – trouble with his knees.
The deck and ramp was CHIP’s second project at the Bickford home, in the Waldoboro Mobile Home Park on Route 32. The first was in 2015, when the Bickfords needed stairs to their back door.
Throughout the year, Gill receives calls about families, like the Bickfords, in need of renovations or repairs to their homes.
Gill and a contractor visit the houses to see if they fit three criteria: the need fits the CHIP slogan of “warm, safe, and dry”; the repairs are doable for CHIP volunteers; and the need takes priority over others.
Homeowners receive a call telling them their project will be completed on Community Cares Day. A team lead and a carpenter works on each project, while the number of volunteers depends on the size of the project.
Most homeowners find out about Community Cares Day through word-of-mouth.
Deborah Heady, of Newcastle, heard about Community Cares Day after telling her caseworker she was having issues going up the stairs in her home due to a degenerative eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa.
Heady was diagnosed as legally blind in 2016. Her daughters, Amber and Jenna, have also been diagnosed with the disease. Heady had seen doctors while living in Connecticut, but none confirmed she was blind until she visited a doctor in Maine.
“It was quite a shock. I was told when I was 23 that I had (retinitis pigmentosa), but they told me at the time that I wouldn’t go blind until my late 60s, so I thought I had time,” Heady said.
Some volunteers are veterans of Community Cares Day, having helped as a team lead or regular volunteer for years, while others, like the students, are new to the effort.
The team lead at the Heady residence was Bill Hinkley, a math teacher at Medomak Valley High School. Hinkley said five MVHS football players volunteered after returning home from a Friday football game after midnight.
Many LA students from China and Vietnam volunteered at a roof project in South Bristol for Shannon Bailey, a single mother of a 12-year-old daughter, Violet.
Bailey’s roof was in poor condition before the October 2017 storm. Afterward, shingles were falling off.
Sometimes the homeowners find a way to lend a hand, although unable to complete the entire project on their own.
Bailey was ready to help the crew of about 15 volunteers working on her roof. They took on additional work, including painting the outside of her garage and removing unwanted items from her property.
“I’ll be sure to volunteer next September,” she said.
Heady’s family, meanwhile, showed their appreciation by cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for the volunteers at her house.
Though Community Cares Day is, by definition, a one-day event, some preparations occur the day before and some work must be completed afterward.
At the Bickford residence, contractor Gary Grant came the day before to take off the original deck and stairs and build the new deck, leaving the ramp for Saturday.
At the Bailey residence, team lead Jacques Vesery said that a few weeks before Community Cares Day, he and contractor Zack Davis visited the house for the first time. Work began the day before and will continue for a few days afterward. The project was only supposed to consist of fixing half the roof, but Vesery insisted on doing more.
The homeowners expressed appreciation for the volunteers’ commitment.
“I’m just overwhelmed with all of what they’ve done and how it looks so nice,” Anna Bickford said. “It’s going to be a big help for me.” She said her sister, who has not been able to visit because she has problems walking, will now be able to visit.
“I’m so thankful they all came out this morning and volunteered their time to do this project,” Heady said. “I’m so appreciative. I would have never been able to do this.”
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Bailey said, calling the volunteers “a great group of people.”
For the first time since the beginning of Community Cares Day, a thank you dinner was prepared and hosted at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Newcastle, for homeowners and volunteers.