About a dozen volunteers converged on Vaucluse Avenue on April 13 to upgrade a modest ranch-style home in Middletown. Although the rain was pouring down, the weather did not stop the group from their task, as they completed the prep work for a fresh coat of exterior paint, trimmed and pruned a large spruce tree in the front yard, removed brush and planted flowers.
To top it all off, a new roof was installed courtesy of Newport-based A1 Construction and Roofing Company.
The effort was the work of the charity, Rebuilding Together Greater Newport (RTGN), the local chapter of a nationwide organization that is the largest of its kind in the country. Every year, a number of applicants, are given a makeover of their properties. This year, two were selected locally.
Founded in 1973 in Midland, Texas, the organization boasts over 200,000 volunteers in 200 chapters nationwide, and completes more than 10,000 renovation projects every year.
This year’s local volunteers came from various business and organizations, including the First Presbyterian Church, The Newport County Board of Realtors, the Women’s Council of Realtors and the Washington Trust Bank, among others.
Rose, who is 89 and has lived at her home on Vaucluse Avenue since 1962, was ecstatic over the improvements. Sitting at her kitchen table by a window looking out toward Memorial Park, she had high praise for the volunteers.
“They are doing a good job, every one of them,” she said. “I couldn’t afford to do it … the place looks 100 percent better than what it did.”
Co-heading the Middletown project was Meredith LeBlanc, who connected to Rebuild Together through the Women’s Council of Realtors four years ago.
“I think it’s such a great opportunity for us realtors to give back to the community,” she said. “To give people safe homes [is] what everyone wants.
“It’s all about making homes safe and healthy. We want to help [people] have an enjoyable life in their home.”
The team also worked inside the home, adding a new kitchen sink and rethatching ceilings. Electrical work was performed free of charge by M D’Andrea Electric.
Susan McCoy, chair of RTGN, has been with the organization since its inception in 2001. “Warmth and safety [are] our big things,” she said. “We aim to help those who need help [and are] still in their houses.”
McCoy is also the former president of the Newport County Board of Realtors. “We took this on [in 2001] as a project and have been doing it ever since,” she said.
The selection process focuses on low-income residents who either can’t afford the necessary repairs or are too elderly to perform the work themselves.
Donna Feeley, president of the Rhode Island Women’s Council of Realtors, is in her third year volunteering. She spent part of the day planting yellow pansies in planters along the front entrance walkway.
Although the rain prevented the group from finishing the paint job, they will be returning on April 27 to complete the work.
“They don’t know how much I appreciate what they are doing,” said Rose.
Across town, the Kiwanis Club of Newport and a group of Salve Regina University students are sponsoring the other approved project at a home on King Road.
Fulvio Pires, owner of Pires and Sons, donated the labor and materials toward building a backyard fence for Erica, a single mother with two young children, including 4-year-old Ronan, who has autism.
“We needed a fence for our yard so he could play without running off,” she said.
Volunteers at the King Road location also repainted the children’s bedrooms, added a window guard to Ronan’s room and completed minor plumbing work. They also installed a new water heater, which Erica said “was a big deal.”
Pires praised Rebuild Together’s fundraising efforts, and plans to continue assisting in future projects. “Sometimes people just need the reminder that there still is a lot of good out there,” he said.