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October Senior Corps-RSVP Spotlight on Service

2016 October 21
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Community Paint-a-Thon team find painting homes rewarding despite the long hours.

You could call Larry Reinhardt, Deb Lester and Steve Gonczy the Paint-a-Thon “honey-do” people. Every September, their team of 25 to 30 volunteers, take on the daunting task of restoring the exterior of an older or disabled homeowner’s residence enabling them to live independently, and with dignity in their community. This team is one of 22 teams that painted a total of 24 homes for this year’s 29th annual Community Paint-a-Thon. Individuals that qualify to have their home painted are homeowners with limited financial resources who are at least 60 years of age, or have a permanent disability, or a Veteran, making them unable to do the work themselves.
Steve, Larry and Deb are some of the more than 75 Senior Corps-RSVP members that participated in this year’s Paint-a-Thon. Their energy and enthusiasm are evident as they relate their experiences working with St. Raymond’s Paint-a-Thon team based in Mount Prospect. They have been working on homes in the northwest suburbs for more than ten years and each year look forward to getting together, knowing all the effort required to return a house to beautiful condition.
“It’s fun to reconnect,” Deb said. “We pray for good weather and most of the time get it.”
One would think that, with so many hands, the job should take only a couple of days. Not quite. Preparation alone can take as many as four days, while painting is done in about nine hours.
“We put in a total of 150 to 250 hours of volunteer time,” Steve said. “Two-thirds of that is in the preparation. We start by power washing, then we scrape, sand, wire brush and fill in any holes. After that, it’s finally ready for the primer and the painting.”
Paint-a-Thon volunteers have replaced window foundations, wood for railings and decks. The paint is donated by Valspar, additional paint supplies are also donated and some equipment is kept year to year to re-use.
People with limited finances who need exterior painting and repair work on their homes may start applying in April. Catholic Charities reviews all applications to determine eligibility. Annette Sommer, Manager of Client Services for HandsOn Suburban Chicago recruits all the volunteer teams. Teams of painters come from several area corporations, local church groups, high school youth groups, and community- minded individuals. Once it’s determined that a homeowner qualifies, an inspector will assess the preparation and repairs required. Detailed notes are provided to each team with the number of gallons of paint and additional equipment needed.
After the Paint-a-Thon team members are assigned a home they make decisions on the best way to distribute the work load. In September, following Labor Day, work begins. The volunteers show up at 8:30 a.m. with scraping tools, power wash equipment, paints, brushes and whatever else is needed to get the job done. A typical day ends at 3:00 p.m.
But as every homeowner knows, very few projects proceed without a hitch somewhere along the line. As work progresses, sometimes the project’s estimated time goes beyond the original estimate, due to unforeseen issues.
“About every third one is a bear,” Larry laughed. “We did repair work on a deck. Had a lot of rotted wood; then we have to watch for wasp and bee nests; one had lots of ants near the garage.”
“Sometimes when we do the power washing it can go right through the wood,” Steve said. “We use lots of wood filler; one house had rusted out steel gutters.”
Older team members are aware of their limitations. “Larry was a real trouper dealing with the gutters,” Deb said. “But ladder work is challenging; we try to leave it to the younger guys.”
In all the years the team has been with Paint-a-Thon, they’ve never had an accident. Prior to starting a job, new volunteers attend a safety training.
All agreed the rewards are worth it and that’s what keeps them volunteering year after year. One of the bonuses—meeting interesting people.
“I got to know one client when I was painting the inside of her front door. We talked for three hours,” Deb said. “She was from the Philippines. She still sends me Christmas cards.”
According to Annette Sommer, once a job is completed a survey is sent to the homeowners to learn if they were satisfied with the work of the team and if there were any issues regarding the painting project.
“We get about 90 percent of the homeowners to respond. They’re always satisfied,” she said. “The volunteers are great. Seniors, adults and youth all work together.”
In the past 29 years Community Paint-a-Thon volunteers have painted 814 homes, with the help of 16,747 volunteers using approximately 15,190 gallons of paint. This major accomplishment has been completed by volunteer teams like this one who care about their communities and neighbors.


Other Links for Opportunities to Help Your Neighbor:
Yard Work, Center of Concern, Park Ridge
Food Donations, Northwest Compass, Mount Prospect
Senior Transportation Driver, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Maine Township
Window Washing, Center of Concern, Maine Township
Home Delivered Meals, Meals at Home, Evanston and North Shore


After all the preparation work, Senior Corps-RSVP Community Paint-a-Thon volunteers begin the final step. With so many hands, the job of painting usually takes only one day.



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