Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rebuilding Together - The Final Push

You may recall previous posts in regards to an organization called Rebuilding Together. I had intended to write a reflection on my experiences with the not-for-profit and the people they help. Now that the interviews are winding down, and they need more volunteers for the final push, I figured this was as good a time as any.

I won't get into the semantics of the organization themselves, they were well organized and knew what they were doing, this being their 10th year. I should mention the donuts, bagels ad coffee. As I said, well organized.

The things that really stood out for me was that there are so many people in need in such a small area, the Austin neighborhood, and that there were such extremes of classes involved, in some cases they lived just down the street from each other.

For example, one house had three men living in it, the grandmother, her daughter and four or five grandchildren running around piles of refuse. The walls had massive holes in them due to a complete overhaul of the plumbing in the place. It was tough to see and tougher to walk away from. I don't think I'm experienced enough in these situations to presume to know where to begin to help, but I remember thinking that the children could use a good mentor.

Just down the street, however, an older woman, possibly in her forties, answered the door and invited us into her fine, middle-class home. In many ways it was nicer than my condo and even the basement was finished. While it was sad to see the extremes, the potential positive outcome here was the exposure the children in the previous home would have to a middle-class home or family. That's something that was taken away from poor neighborhoods in the last 50 years in this country but is also something we have come to recognize and attempt to rectify with our new housing projects, aptly named mixed-income communities.

I've heard other people say Austin is the new North Lawndale. Several years ago the architecture, design, development and real estate communities descended upon North Lawndale to the point where, some say, it was over saturated with outreach. The results are clear, and master plans and proposals continue along with new or rehabbed buildings that are setting a new standard, not only for the neighborhood but for the nation, such as the Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center by Doug Farr's office.

Austin is shaping up to be in a similar situation. Many organizations are focusing their efforts on the neighborhood. One of the things that has kept it on the down-and-out is its proximity to Oak Park and its use as a westward drug corridor into Chicago.

Rebuilding Together is a well-run organization and I never felt unsafe. You may be familiar with their Rebuilding Together day which normally falls in April. If you're unfamiliar with the interview process that is required of applicant homeowners it's a great program with a lot of need. They're coming down to the end of the season and would like to be finished with Austin by the end of November (they've started tackling Berwyn too). But whether or not they finish depends heavily on you. Interviews are done in pairs, one person interviews the homeowner while the other scopes the house to determine how much help they need. As an architect, I was a scoper and they made it very easy for me by providing a checklist.

There's a thriving community here, some people just need a little push in the right direction. Whether you want to help out, meet new people or build up a resume in this economic downturn Rebuilding Together could use you and there's certainly a lot of need in Austin. I know how many of you are out of work so if you're tired of sitting around this is a worthy cause.

The next interview days are as follows:
November 14th
November 21st
December 5th
December 12th

Please contact:
Andrea Fritsch
Program Manager
Rebuilding Together * Metro Chicago
PO Box 641250, Chicago, IL 60664
P: (312)201-1188
F: (312)977-3805

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