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Rebuilding Together Minnesota helps Homeowners, nonprofit now offers no-cost fixes year-round

When Kathryn Greiner helping out the organization that would become Rebuilding Together Minnesota, volunteer teams did all of the repair work on one Saturday in April helping around six families.


Since Greiner took charge in 2005, the home repair non-profit has grown from a one-day-a-year effort to a year-round commitment to help people stay safely in their homes. “We quickly grew out of that one-day-a-year [model], because here in Minnesota, the, furnace doesn’t always stop working in April,” said Greiner, whose organization now serves upwards of 300 families per year.

 

It’s a big change from the organization’s early days when all of the repair work focused on one Saturday in April. These days, Greiner explained, “We operate more like a professional construction company.” In fact, Greiner has her contractor’s license.

 

“We’re doing 250-300 projects a year,” said Greiner. “Everything from replacing the roof or windows in a house to putting in grab bars.”


When the non-profit executive needs a little pick-me-up, she thinks about the woman who asked Rebuilding Together Minnesota to make her bathroom safer. The woman was older, and her balance wasn’t good. The woman’s adult daughter came over a couple of times each week to help her shower. Despite having a loving caregiver, the woman was worried.


“She was living in fear that her daughter, who was an active member of the National Guard, was going to get called up to active duty,” recalled Greiner. “She would no longer be able to live on her own, because she wouldn’t be able to get in and out of her bath tub by herself.”


After a crew of RTMN volunteers added grab bars inside the bathroom, the client was ecstatic. Gripping her new grab bars, the woman was nearly dancing around her bathroom. “She was virtually hopping in and out of her bathtub, because she was so excited to take a shower by herself,” said Greiner. “It seems like little things, but it makes such a huge impact for folks.”


Greiner is passionate about helping older Minnesotans and those with disabilities live independently at home, in part because it helps them live better--and longer. “Statistics have actually shown that people who stay in a home where they’ve lived for many years actually end up living longer,” said Greiner. “They have a better quality of life. That is what we are trying to do… just help people stay where they want to be.”


RTMN’s two main programs, Home Repair and Safe at Home, offer no-cost repairs. The clients’ repair needs determine which program will serve them. In some ways, Greiner’s non-profit acts as a matchmaker. After visiting an applicant’s homes, a project manager tries to determine the funding source which best suits the homeowner’s needs. Case in point: a couple in North Minneapolis recently received central air conditioning and updated electric thanks to grant money earmarked for veterans.


Even though RTMN found success using more contractors during the pandemic, the organization still uses volunteers. In fact, one team of retirees has built close to 100 ramps to provide disability access for homeowners who’ve started using wheelchairs.

 

After applicants apply to RTMN, a project manager viisits the home to determine which repairs are most needed. “Basically, we look at what’s broken around the house that we need to fix, so it doesn’t fall into more disrepair,” Greiner explained. In that way, she believes RTMN helps prevent homelessness.


Since helping people live safely is a key part of RTMN’s mission, project managers identify and eliminate any fall risks. “Is it adding a stair rail on going upstairs? Or is it adding a couple grab bars into the shower? Those two things alone can add so much independence for an older adult, and they can stay in their home three, four, five more years,” said Greiner.


Falls can be a matter of life and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. Each year, in the United States, more than 14 million older adults (65 years of age and older) report falling. That’s one in four older Americans. A look at state-by-state health data from 2020 (HYPERLINK TO  https://www.cdc.gov/falls/data/index.html) shows 29% of older Minnesotans have reported falling. That almost 254,000 people in one year. Most falls are preventable. That’s why RTMN installs so many railings and grab bars at clients’ homes.


Greiner and her board want to attract more donors, applicants and volunteers, especially those from BIPOC communities. Among the upcoming awareness- and fundraising activities are a fishing-themed “Hook, Line, Shelter” fundraising competition as well as a free breakfast event.

 

For more information on those events, and information about volunteering, donating or applying for repair help, go to rtmn.org.

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