Volunteers get hands dirty to brighten a neighborhood

May 12, 2012
photo - A volunteer helps with landscaping during the Deerfield Hills Revitalization Project on Saturday. Photo by Courtesy of Lee Mizer
A volunteer helps with landscaping during the Deerfield Hills Revitalization Project on Saturday. Photo by Courtesy of Lee Mizer 

A rotting, collapsed fence. A dirt yard patched with discolored grass. A bathroom with a hole in the floor, and a living room with a moldy, damp carpet.

What it takes to fix all these things—money, tools, skills and able bodies — are sometimes lacking in the Deerfield Hills neighborhood, a crumbling 1970s housing project in eastern Colorado Springs that sits between South Academy  Boulevard and Hancock Expressway.

A group of 250 Colorado Springs volunteers armed with federal grant money and thousands of dollars in donations from home improvement stores, tried to change that Saturday.

The teams of volunteers, organized by Rebuilding Together Colorado Springs and the city, spent the day landscaping yards and re-painting houses. Twelve families in the neighborhood got help through the program — yard and landscaping work was all donated labor.

Not everything was free. Some families took out home-improvement loans to pay a share of the cost to have interior work done

Rebuilding Together takes on the burden of most of the loans, and if they families stay in their homes for 10 years, the loans are forgivable, said Lee Mizer, the program’s executive director.

In the past, as part of the Deerfield Hills Revitalization Project, the group has helped refurbish a couple of homes every year. The plan grew in 2012 to an ambitious dozen.

Kris Lamb, an volunteer and employee of Booz Allen Hamiliton, rounded up 87 fellow employees for yard-work Saturday.

Last year the group had one house to work on, with over 40 volunteers. They powered through that work and got everything done in a day, he said. But the forces were spread thin this year.

“This is a tough project,” he said, of the 12 homes the group hoped to refurbish over the next couple of months.

Unskilled volunteers weren't alone in shouldering the burdens of labor. A local Home Depot store, which brought a team of volunteers, donated $60,000. Local landscape architects donated time to design new yards with gravel hills, walk-ways, and Aspen trees.

Alice Barnes, a homeowner and secretary at the nearby Turman Elementary School, grabbed a shovel to help volunteers with her landscaping. Workers cut down a dead pine tree in her yard and replaced a broken window in her home, she said.

For the next workday, in June, she will be getting a new carpet and interior paint, she said. Twenty volunteers from Turman marched over to help her out.

Despite the daunting list of homes, the project seemed to be coming together, Mizer said. In October, when the project was in the planning stages, it seemed impossible, she said.

"It was just one of those dream things,” she said.

But from the looks of freshly painted houses, which stood out among many that could use some work, the dream seemed to have come to fruition.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261
Twitter @ryanmhandy

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