Building community by fixing homes

Jessica Hunt

Hammers, clothes and hands caked with white paint filled a west Evanston family’s home as about 50 volunteers worked on the house Saturday.

The volunteers, who worked in shifts throughout the day, included members of the Rotary Club of Evanston Lighthouse. Since 1999, the Evanston Rotary has teamed up with the national building project Rebuilding Together. This project was the 15th home the Evanston Rotary has restored.

“It’s our biggest community service project,” said Steve Carlson, an Evanston Lighthouse member and an organizer for the event. “We have a lot of people working from the city.”

Laura Gartner, 56, of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Evanston, came with several other members of her church.

“With people being strapped financially, we have to all pitch in and reach out to our neighbors,” she said.

She stressed the need for her church to go out into the community.

“Being a Christian is not just attending (church on) Sunday morning, but being there for your brothers and sisters as much as we can,” Gartner said.

Members of Northwestern’s Rotaract and Evanston Township High School’s Interact have also participated in several of the projects.

Weinberg sophomore Liz Kinsey, a Rotaract member, helped gut the roof and said she plans to help again next year.

“It’s a way to fix up a house in the community while working together and getting to know Rotary members,” she said.

It can be a challenge to complete repairs because groups are limited by time constraints and the members’ skills, said Evanston Lighthouse member Vim McGuire, who has participated in the rebuilding program for several years.

“It’s too bad we don’t have a whole army of people to work on many projects,” he said. “From a family point of view, they really appreciate it.”

The house they worked on this year belongs to Annie Washington, 57, who lives there with eight children, ranging in ages from six to 16. Washington has two children of her own and adopted her younger sister’s six children. She said she cannot have a job because she has to stay home with the children, some of whom have special needs.

“I was kind of surprised,” Washington said of the volunteers’ work. “They did more than I expected.”

David Loziuk, 24, a volunteer from Engineers Without Borders in Chicago, said he enjoyed meeting the family.

“It’s fun to hang out with the kids,” he said.

Loziuk has done several international service projects in places such as Haiti and Mexico, but he said it’s the first time he has done something locally.

“You think of Evanston as an upscale town,” he said. “But it sort of broadens your horizons to see something like this.”

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