July 26 2016 11:33 AM

Rock the Block provides home repairs in Old Town


TUESDAY, July 26 — Hundreds of Habitat for Humanity Capital Region volunteers poured into Old Town last week for Rock the Block, assisting residents with needed home repairs and landscaping projects.

“Rock the Block is a neighborhood revitalization project where we target a neighborhood and offer the homeowners in the neighborhood affordable exterior home repairs,” said Dena Vatalaro, community relations manager for Habitat for Humanity Capital Region. “And when I say affordable, that’s because they actually have to pay something. Habitat is a hand-up and not a handout.”

About 250 volunteers participated throughout the five-day event, July 18 through 22, completing five exterior home paintings, a porch repair and a landscaping project. Volunteers included representatives from Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Huntington Bank, several faith-based organizations and even members of Michigan State University’s men’s basketball team. Several volunteers belonged to a new group called Habitat Young Professionals, which is comprised of young professionals in their 20s and early 30s who want to get involved with Habitat for Humanity.

While the volunteers covered a large portion of the repairs, homeowners were also expected to put in “sweat equity.”

“All of the homeowners that had their house painted or their porch repaired had to put in so many hours out here working,” Vatalaro said. “A lot of people think that we give houses away to homeless people and things like that. That’s not actually what we do. We empower people to own their own homes. They have to have homeowners insurance and be current on their mortgage, and then we offer exterior repairs like painting, porch replacement, porch repair and landscaping.”

“I love the community effort,” said homeowner Kelly Kitchen. “They’ve helped me develop a legacy for this home, and they’ve helped develop a community feel for everyone that helped on this house.”

While these repairs focus on a few houses, Vatalaro hopes the improvements will positively affect the whole neighborhood.

“The goal is really to build community and improve the overall neighborhood by a touch of paint and getting rid of weeds,” Vatalaro said. “My favorite part is the joy that the homeowners get in seeing their homes come back to life,”