AmeriCorps Helping Homeowners Rebuild Post-Irene

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More than a year after Tropical Storm Irene, Randy and Lynda Hart still aren’t back home. But they’re getting close, thanks to a steady stream of volunteers who’ve been helping rebuild their house from the foundation up. The Hart’s home is among at least 140 still being repaired after last fall’s floods.

 For those still out of their homes more than a year after Irene, recovery is a full time job. Since the storm, Randy Hart has been working to repair his house. It’s an early 19th century home on the White River in Hartford.  Irene flooded the cellar and first floor and damaged the old stone foundation.

Since then, Randy and his wife Lynda Hart have been camping out in a space above their garage, with no running water and minimal amenities.

"We have a hose outside," Lynda explained. "We have friends, thank God, that we can go for showers everyday. Our port-a-potty hopefully will be gone in a week or so. It won’t be missed."

The Harts say the port-a-potty is on the way out because, while there’s still plenty of work to do, the couple is anxious to get back in their house.

 Randy said, "Once we get some paint on these walls, we’re going to be coming in!"

Randy has had a lot of help with the repairs. No one may be living in it, but on many days, this has been a crowded house.   

Volunteers come in waves:  At first there were dozens to help with the initial clean-up.  When reconstruction began, they came from local organizations and businesses. And they came from far away.  The Maryland faith-based group Dreambuilders sent a group of high school volunteers.

"They were 14 years old to 17," said Lynda. "Some of them had never picked up a hammer before."

Randy added, "We had 30 of them on this job site.  Incredible how much you can get done with a lot of hands."

At this point, the house has a new foundation four feet higher than the old one.  Many of the downstairs walls are still exposed studs, with wiring running along them.  A refrigerator stands in the middle of the floor, waiting to be installed, and a stack of sheetrock leans against one wall. 

The latest group of volunteers to work here is part of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps program.  They’re between the ages of 18 and 24 and come from all over.  They’ve been pitching in to get the Sheetrock up at the Harts’ home.

Ann Goodrich is volunteer resource coordinator with Upper Valley Strong, which has been helping the Harts. Goodrich says there’s been a wave of people coming to her group for help for the first time.  Some are experiencing mold problems. Others are dealing with serious structural problems.

"Some are total rebuilds that they’ve been trying to hold together on their own and just decided that they can’t. Foundation rebuilding. They thought the foundation looked great, but now it’s buckling.  We’re coming to much harder cases that are emerging," said Goodrich.

State officials say the state has inventoried more than 140 homes still in need of repairs from Irene damage. 

The young AmeriCorps volunteers are in Vermont until November 2nd.  Team member Tu anh Tran of Atlanta, Georgia is taking a year off from school before she starts a master’s program in biology.

"It’s a break from real life, but at the same time it’s doing something that’s very honorable and rewarding," she said. "Sometimes it’s not so fun, but other times like this when you meet the family and you interact with people it makes everything worthwhile."

Homeowners Randy and Lynda Hart say the help they’ve had makes it possible for them to return home much sooner than they first imagined.  Randy says they were prepared to spend years living over their garage or in the cellar of the unfinished house.

"That was our plan, actually. We said it was going to be 10 years with tax returns before we could get this thing built. We kind of accepted that.  All this help has been fantastic."

The Harts plan to be back in their home before the snow flies in Hartford.



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