Rebuilding Together: New Font and New Focus
In February 2009, I volunteered to write a living history for Rebuilding Together Metro Denver (RTMD). Mine would become the first living history which RTMD planned to use for marketing purposes. A total of five living histories were written last year. But what else happened in 2009?
In February 2010, I followed up to ask if 2009 was a lean year of decreased financial donations, budget cuts and service reductions.
Rebuilding Together (RT) is a national, volunteer-based home repair organization with affiliates in all 50 states which rehabilitates over 10,000 homes each year with the help of over 250,000 volunteers. The national office advocates and liaisons with government agencies for housing assistance for low income homeowners. Nationally RT manages programs of larger impact including veteran's housing programs and post hurricane housing reconstruction in Louisiana and Mississippi.
RT's typical recipient is a retiree from the pre-401k generation, meaning most have their largest investment tied up in their house. After living productive and useful lives they experience difficulties living on restricted retirement incomes. Home repairs are overdue and small problems become chronic and serious over time. According to RT's website, 80 percent of homeowners is aged 50 and older and 95 percent want to age in place. At present, there are more people aged 85 and older than in any time in the collective history of the U.S. and the number of elderly is expected to double by 2025 to 70 million.
What Changed From 2008 To 2009?
According to Mary Brook, RT Metro Denver Volunteer Coordinator, 2009 volunteer hours increased over 2008 by 25 percent (from 19,279 hours to 25,472 hours). The annual report will record the labor value (as if the nonprofit (NPO) had paid for both the skilled and unskilled services and labor) as $526,659.00. Coupled with increased volunteer interest and participation, RTMD noted a change in the 2009 volunteer base composition. While the activities of traditional corporate-sponsored teams decreased, overall volunteer hours increased with more individual volunteers contributing.
Laurie Wagner, Director of Marketing and Development, highlighted areas where RT Metro Denver adjusted expectations and strategies: the 2009 budget was reduced and dependence on continued strong support from traditionally large corporate supporters increased. The NPO refocused the types of repairs performed toward more urgent need issues and increased emphasis on energy upgrades. Wagner says, "The emphasis is on being greener, increasing efficient energy use and reduced homeowner cost." Upgrades created warmer, safer, drier housing. In this way, RT is planning to expand the services for the people served in 2010.
Hypothermia and the Elderly Homeowner
Referencing an article published by University of Iowa Health Care entitled "Hypothermia in the Elderly," older adults experience a decreased ability to maintain a constant internal temperature. When heat loss exceeds the body's innate ability to conserve heat, hypothermia occurs. Additional elements can increase the risk for hypothermia and "cold injury" such as pre-existing chronic circulatory or neurologic ailments, physical or behavioral limitations, some commonly prescribed medications as well as poorly heated homes.
From this article, one can infer that cold injuries could include falls and the resultant broken bones. For RT, re-insulating homes and replacing old windows places emphasis on maintaining indoor temperatures at safe levels. To avoid hypothermia, housing temperatures should be no cooler than 65 degrees Fahrenheit even at night. Statistically, numbers from 2004 indicate that nearly 85 percent of deaths from falls were among people aged 75 and older: these people are four to five times more likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility for one year or longer.
Know the Signs of Hypothermia
Contrary to popular belief, falling through thin ice isn't the only way to cause hypothermia. We have learned that indoor temperatures of 64 degrees Fahrenheit are not warm enough for the elderly. Signs of hypothermia include shivering and cold skin, loss of control of fine finger movements, a blue-gray color of the fingers, toes, ears and nose, confusion, drowsiness, sluggishness, slurred speech, slow or shallow breathing, rigid muscles and unconsciousness. If you notice these symptoms, warm the person up by removing cold or wet clothing and then wrapping the person in blankets and other warm coverings. Feed the person warm liquids, never hot, and refrain from giving any alcohol. If the case is severe and frostbit may have set in, do not rub or massage and do not apply any ointments or lotions. Call for emergency medical assistance as quickly as possible.
How to Help Elderly Parents and Neighbors
As the statistics show, most elderly homeowners want to continue living and aging in their own homes. In addition to keeping homes warm and dry, you can make the difference and improve home safety with some small fixes. Because falls create the biggest disability problems, simple actions such as changing light bulbs in doorways and stairways help sustain a safer home by making mobility easier. Brighter lights in some areas increase depth perception such as in areas where people walk, sit or read, and in areas with handrails, stairs and transitions between indoors and outdoors. Changing light bulbs in ceiling fixtures can be particularly challenging for the elderly. Think about it – do you really want grandma standing on a folding chair, reaching for the fixture with light bulb in hand? Also, maintaining good reading light is another area where your thoughtfulness can make a big improvement. Use CFL bulbs whenever possible as they burn longer and ask the resident how bright they would like the light to be.
Consider changing the homeowner's furnace filter at the same time as you change your own. Filters should be changed on a monthly basis if possible. Sometimes furnaces are located in dark closets and may be difficult to reach or install properly.
Consider helping your parents or neighbor switch to a renewable energy source such as wind or solar. Did you know that these "commodities" aren't prone to frequent rate increases thus, making it easier to create a long term energy budget. Normally, this transaction can be completed in very little time by phone and with the resident's consent.
If you're more ambitious, making small home energy improvements can be simple. For example, most energy and power companies, such as Xcel Energy, provide a list of 60 simple energy solutions. And if you're not a hands-on helper, but would like to make a difference in someone's life, consider contributing to your energy company's assistance program.
The Seen and the Unseen Effects of Helping
Helping neighbors live longer in their houses by lending a hand with maintenance and costs, is not just the nice thing to do. Home maintenance assistance sustains and improves neighborhood property values. And, by providing safer, dryer, warmer homes, overall medical costs are lower. With foreclosures at an all time high and with the number of homeowners spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing expenses rising by 35 percent, homelessness among the elderly is a problem. Rebuilding Together performs a valuable and broad-reaching impact which benefits the whole community whether we realize it or not.
If you would like to learn more and become involved with Rebuilding Together, consult their website at www.rebuildingtogether.org. Two times every year, RT holds national Rebuilding Day. In 2010, the dates are April 24th and October 2nd. Teams will gather across the U.S. to rehabilitate houses and consequently the lives of elderly, low-income and disabled individuals.