Rebuilding Blocks

Nonprofit group fixes up homes, puts lives back in order

A drunken driver plowed into Alice Guriel’s North Las Vegas home three years ago, ripping into the living room and knocking the house off its foundation. Insurance money paid a pittance, and the 51-year-old woman was literally left with a broken home. Battling a litany of medical issues, Guriel works only part time and hasn’t been able to afford any repairs. Recently, an organization called Rebuilding Together found her.

The national nonprofit organization, which has more than 225 affiliates throughout the United States, rehabilitates housing for low-income homeowners. After hearing about Guriel’s plight, it rallied the troops, gathering dozens of volunteers from throughout the community (including a general contractor) and whipped the house back into shape earlier this month. Lowe’s donated paint. Rainbow Rocks donated landscaping materials. And after more than 24 hours of hard labor, Guriel was able to open her front door for the first time in three years (she’d been using the garage door). She was able to look out the window that had been covered with particleboard and see a landscaped yard that had once been in ruins.

“It looks really nice,” Guriel says. “Even the neighbors are so happy.”

Guriel is just one of the many lives that Rebuilding Together will touch this year. On April 24, nearly 2,000 volunteers from the community will come together for National Rebuilding Day. They’ll work on 23 homes throughout the Valley, three of which will be complete gut rehabs.

Therese Elliott is the director of program development and marketing for the organization, and in the last 13 years she’s seen it all: Las Vegas families who have lived without air conditioning for 20 years, people living in homes where ceilings have collapsed from leaking roofs, and more cockroaches than she cares to think about.

“It’s amazing how, after living in substandard conditions, people get used to living like that,” Elliott says.

Her goal is to get the word out to people who are unlikely to hear about Rebuilding Together but need the organization the most.

“We’re trying to reach the homeowner that doesn’t drive, that might be disabled in a wheelchair, that can’t get out of their home,” Elliott says. “Those are the ones we’re trying to reach to let them know that we’re here to help them. I would say 98 percent of the people I assist have never heard of us before.”

And it’s not for lack of trying. In 2009, Rebuilding Together helped more than 530 people, including low-income families, seniors and veterans. Its goal is to attend to emergencies and allow people to remain safely in their homes.

In addition to rebuilding, the organization helps homeowners year-round with water heaters, air conditioning and heating, minor electrical problems, plumbing and more. Rebuilding Together also has a home modification program, and works to make homes accessible to people with physical challenges. But first, those people need to learn whom to ask for help.

“We’re just like this little secret here,” Elliott says. “And we really need to get our word out.”

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