If one was inclined to go for a walk through the sleepy village of Riverdale, Il on a beautiful Saturday morning in late April, they might have stumbled across a rather unusual sight in one of the village’s charming residential streets. On a block that would otherwise seem deserted at 8 A.M. on April 26th, save for the occasional dog barking in a backyard, or tired neighbor walking out to fetch a newspaper, there was quite a bit of commotion outside one particular home. If one had chosen to walk by this home they would have seen a team of GSU faculty, staff and student volunteers bright-eyed and eager to begin a day of rebuilding.
GSU’s Center for Civic Engagement and Honors Program, led by the indomitable Dr. Tywanda Jiles, had teamed up with a wonderful non-profit organization called Rebuilding Together, to help restore and rebuild a home more suitable to its 92-year old owner, the widow of a World War I veteran, Mrs. Eva. Armed with cans of paint, drills, garden supplies, a carpenter who had volunteered his time, and a positive can-do attitude volunteers set to work on the myriad of tasks set for the day; Repainting two bedrooms, installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, replacing and weatherizing and outside window, installing grab-bars in the bathroom, changing out the door handles throughout the home (for ones easier for our homeowner, Mrs. Eva to use with her arthritis), installing energy-efficient CFL light bulbs, and revitalizing her front and back garden. No task was too small or too difficult for our volunteers, who thought only of ways they could make the house ‘safe, warm, and dry’ for our homeowner.
Our day began at Ms. Eva’s home at 8:00 a.m. with the volunteer’s arrival; all clad in their Rebuilding Together t-shirts. There were 25 motivated people who came excited to meet Ms. Eva, who was a very welcoming and kind host to all the volunteers. The students’ tasks were divided before they reached the home based on their skills and interest. Given the size of the home, the tasks required, and the enthusiasm in our volunteers the whole house quickly felt very full of both people and energy. Volunteers set to work, placing cover sheets on the furniture and moving it. Every volunteer inside had either a paint brush or a paint roller. The volunteers that were outside had gardening tools and trash buckets ready to remodel the front garden. Volunteers seemed to enjoy the team-work aspect of their tasks; they were excited while exchanging chores and tools.
It was a full productive day for the students. Ms. Eva was a very warm and personable home owner, offering coffee for all the volunteers. Volunteers had a greater opportunity to connect with her during the lunch break where she shared stories and told them more about herself. Having that personal connection to Mrs. Eva definitely made the work more rewarding for the students, who could directly see the impact they were making. The photos here are only a few of the hundreds of photos that were taken to share. After the day was complete, Dr. Jiles took care to specially thank all the volunteers for their efficiency and the quality of their work. Ms. Eva was given a tour of the house, seeing for the first time all the improvements that our volunteers had made. Her calm smile and words of appreciation made it clear just how pleased she was with all that had been done, and that was reward enough for our volunteers.