John Veysey watched with satisfaction as 60 volunteers helped spruce up five houses last month in a Pasco neighborhood near Shoshone and Third streets.
Crystal Carter also was there and she was pleased too.
“There are times in life where everybody needs a hand,” Carter said. “Together, we create this community we live in.”
The Pasco neighborhood demonstration project was organized by Rebuilding Mid-Columbia, a new nonprofit whose vision is “a safe and healthy home for every person.”
Rebuilding Mid-Columbia, or RMC, is a volunteer organization which makes free home repairs for low-income homeowners who are elderly, disabled or have families with children.
The group’s work helps preserve affordable housing, allows the elderly to age at home and keeps families with children or family members with disabilities safe in their home.
There are few Tri-City organizations that can help people in need maintain their homes.
“It’s estimated that here in the Tri-Cities 40,000 people live with the prospect of sub-standard housing,” said Carter, executive director of RMC.
RMC is a continuation of the work Veysey and Carter have been doing since at least 2012.
Veysey, who is the manager of plant engineering, technical support and maintenance at Areva Inc. in Richland, has helped rebuild and improve homes for years.
“I was involved in Rebuilding Together Savannah (in Georgia) before I came to the Tri-Cities,” he said. “I saw the impact it had on the community there.”
It was Veysey who convinced Tri-County Partners Habitat for Humanity in 2012 to start a similar program in the Tri-Cities, called IMPACT, or Individuals Mobilizing People and Communities Together.
Through IMPACT, about 150 improvement projects were completed in four years.
Veysey said Areva and its employees were involved in a third of the IMPACT projects.
“Seventy-five to 100 of the employees come help at various times,” he said.
But by the beginning of 2016, Veysey and Carter – who ran the IMPACT program for Habitat – were told that Habitat couldn’t continue the program.
Habitat had a backlog of too many homes and projects that demanded too much time.
“Habitat is taking on huge projects,” Carter said. “But they’ve been pretty great at referring people to us.”
In the spring, Veysey and Carter began the process of getting 501(c)3 status for Rebuilding Mid-Columbia. RMC got the nonprofit status in September.
For the most part, RMC is a continuation of the IMPACT program.
But the group has had to restart the fundraising process.
“My top job is bringing in sponsorships and working with the families,” Carter said.
Veysey said money is the big thing.
“The more important thing right now is getting some donations,” he said. “We plan to do about 30 projects a year. The estimated cost is about $2,000 a project. But we plan to raise between $80,000 to $100,000 for the 30 projects.”
That means going to charitable organizations and making presentations.
Just like IMPACT did, RMC has two Rebuilding Days – one in May and one in October – that help to spruce up a neighborhood.
But RMC also hosts a program that addresses the urgent needs of families. Homeowners can qualify for this program if their needs are a matter of safety or mobility, and those needs can’t wait until the next Rebuilding Day.
That’s why the week of the demonstration project, RMC had eight other projects going on.
“We have 60 qualified applicants in our program right now, and many of those have urgent needs,” Carter said. “Ninety-two percent of applicants qualify for urgent need.”
This includes elderly people in wheelchairs or a family with two young boys in wheelchairs who live in homes with no ramp.
“People who are prisoners in their own home, to see them get their freedom back is wonderful,” Carter said. “A person who only has Social Security coming in might have just $750 a month. They have to pay rent, for food and other things. They can’t afford to pay for a ramp to get in and out of their house.”
That’s where Veysey comes in, and why he loves this kind of charity work.
“There are two elements to it,” he said. “First, I love giving back to the community. We’re pretty blessed with this community. Second, because I’m an engineer, I love to organize stuff.”
During last month’s demonstration project, Veysey was there before the volunteers arrived, setting up the needed supplies at each home. Four of them were getting paint jobs. The fifth house was getting a brand new front porch.
Veysey had 24 ladders on his truck, with some scaffolding thrown in. All of the paint was donated.
By the time those 60 volunteers arrived at 8 a.m., Veysey directed them to a house and told them what to do.
“By having five houses together, we can move people from one house to another easily,” Veysey said. “One of the things I try to do in organizing the project is make sure everyone gets a great experience. The project usually starts at 8 a.m., and they’re done by 3 p.m. Almost all 60 volunteers (from this project) want to come back. One-day projects are the key to our volunteers.”
And RMC has used many so far this year. There have been 800 donated man-hours to date.
“But we’re always looking for volunteers,” Veysey said.
And sponsors. And people in need.
For anyone wanting to work with Rebuilding Mid-Columbia, or anyone needing help, contact the group at 253-753-8324 or find on Facebook to fill out an application.