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Rebuilding Together Long Beach is on a mission to assist low-income individuals with essential home repairs.
Since the organization’s 1991 founding, Rebuilding Together Long Beach has completed over 300 home repair and community revitalization projects, largely for elderly, disabled, and/or veteran community members.
“It was just awesome to be able to give back to people and just to know the work that we do makes a huge difference in the homeowners’ lives,” said president Mandy Ruiz.
Particularly within the past couple of years, the organization has undergone many changes, leading current board members to regroup and determine their best path forward, explained board member Mikki Popovich.
While the organization previously had an executive director and office staff, Rebuilding Together is currently operating with eight volunteer board members, many of whom are relatively new to the position.
“We all have full-time jobs and we all just volunteer with whatever we can do, so we’re trying to shape out how we’re going to go forward,” said Popovich.
Previously, the organization was able to complete larger projects, closer to remodels, due to the involvement of a previous board member who owned a construction company, said Popovich.
While this allowed the nonprofit to offer a wider breadth of services, once he retired, that was no longer possible, said Popovich.
“We’re trying to tone all that down, get back to our basics and go from there,” she said.
Currently, the organization categorizes its project into two tiers—one-day projects and simple fixes, such as adding hand bars or sealing windows, or larger, longer-term projects that may require more professional skill, such as adding a stair lift or modifying a bathroom for accessibility.
However, Popovich has found that clients’ needs often surpass the two tiers.
In some homes, the amount of neglect has built up over decades, she explained.
“It might have started maybe 20 years ago with a leaking roof that is now damage to the walls, ceiling, flooring, under flooring, creating projects that are, instead of between five and $10,000 are now upwards of 20 to $50,000,” said Popovich. “We just don’t have either the skill or the money to do work like that.”
Finding clients who meet the qualifications of Rebuilding Together has been difficult—the organization often connects to clients through its website, and occasionally through social workers or the city’s Code Enforcement Bureau.
While Rebuilding Together will occasionally assist renters with small tasks, homeowners are the organization’s primary clients, said Popovich.
However, this has proved to be a challenge in Long Beach, where there are fewer than average home owners, said Popovich.
And for homeowners who own mobile homes, it can often be difficult to find contractors, said Popovich.
“So we’re kind of in a little pickle right now,” she said.
Despite the hurdles and shifts, Rebuilding Together has continued successfully completing projects throughout the community.
During times of heightened pandemic restrictions, the nonprofit was able to complete even more projects due to being able to hire paid contractors, rather than solely relying on volunteers.
“I think we were the busiest during the pandemic. We did, I want to say, 12 projects during that time frame,” said Ruiz. “(Now) we’re just trying to figure out bringing volunteers back and how that’s all gonna work.”
Just a couple of months ago, Rebuilding Together assisted a man who was on the verge of being kicked out of his mobile home park, said Popovich.
“He was living in such horrible conditions,” she said.
Half of his motor home’s electrical system wasn’t working, meaning he was living without a functioning hot water heater, and without a working water pump.
The organization purchased him a new home, with running water, electricity and plumbing.
Popovich and Ruiz are looking for ways to continue assisting the community, which they hope to accomplish through sponsorships and through hiring a new executive director, along with re-establishing a new system for tackling projects.
Previously, while smaller projects or emergencies would be addressed throughout the year, Rebuilding Together would reserve its larger projects for one or two days a year, when volunteers and contractors would gather together to work on five or 10 houses each day.
“It was highly coordinated, as long as the people could wait that long for us to put these things together,” said Popovich.
As the now smaller organization evaluates how to move forward, Rebuilding Together Long Beach is narrowing its focus, turning its attention toward its core mission, which is to help the low-income live a safe and healthy life.
“We’re kind of starting over from scratch again,” said Popovich.
Apart from helping individual clients in their homes, the organization is seeking potential neighborhood revitalization projects, such as improving community centers or improving streets’ curb appeal.
“We’re helping return homes and revitalizing communities and keeping people in their homes, so they don’t have to worry about being displaced,” said Ruiz. “It’s important for veterans and the elderly to know that, hey, there’s people out there that are going to help you.”
“I think the reaction from the homeowner, even if you put in a new light bulb, some of them are just so happy somebody paid attention to them, or reached out to them,” said Popovich. “I just think that the level of their excitement and their happiness—even if it’s a small job, it’s a good job.”
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