This past weekend was began a big summer for New Directions Housing Corporation - the kickoff of their 2014 Repair Affair. The event brought in over five hundred volunteers from various Louisville community organizations, corporations and church groups with an incredibly ambitious goal - perform essential repairs on 34 homes in one day. The event targets low-income elderly or disabled people who have difficulty keeping up with the essential repairs on their homes, and aims to get those things taken care of without any cost to the resident.
Lisa Thompson, COO of New Directions, sees the project not just as a restoration effort, but as an outreach to the community. “We’re aiming to keep people where they want to be,” she said. So often people in the circumstances that Repair Affair hopes to alleviate are forced to leave their residences for any number of reasons, and that often takes them away from their lives and the communities they’ve long called home.
On Geiger Street in Butchertown, a blue shotgun sits with peeling paint and bits of broken wood siding. Over sixty people from St. Agnes Church swarm the house like a colony of well-rehearsed ants and chip paint, replace panels and pull out an old claw-foot tub from the bathroom. The homeowner has difficulty getting into the tub, and the group is installing a shower for her. Jerry Hettinger, the crew lead from St. Agnes has been volunteering for Repair Affair for years. He says he likes the feeling he gets from helping people. “the people I’ve worked with value their independence more than anything else,” he told me. “We’re helping them continue on. That’s important.” By the end of the day, the home had a new shower, a coat of fresh paint and other miscellaneous repairs completed, giving it a new lease on life.
One of the many organizations that New Directions partners with for Repair Affair is Preservation Louisville. By combining their Save Our Shotguns program, the groups make a formidable team of skilled people and those with an eye for historical detail. No more was this more evident than on Oak Street in the Shelby Park neighborhood. Coupled with a crew of 25 people from Highland Baptist Church, they knocked out a multitude of repairs. A new fence was raised in back, the home was repainted, a new guardrail was installed, and windows were replaced - all with an eye for detail that only Marianne Zickuhr of Preservation Louisville can bring.
She showed me some of the work they were doing on the house, and pointed out that you don’t need to be slap-dash when doing restoration work. “You can repair and restore and still be historically accurate,” she says, and brought my attention to the scalloped siding above the porch. They paint scheme from the previous workers was monocolor - all the scallops were painted beige. In contrast to this is how they would have been painted in the past - with alternating rows - which is exactly how they’re being painted today. Not only that, but they’re utilizing historically accurate colors to boot.
But preserving a home isn’t just about repairing a structure, Marianne told me. “We’re not just preserving a house - we’re preserving a person.” Whether that work be to replace an old roof, fix a broken window or install a new shower, the work that the multitude of volunteers do with Repair Affair is monumental. This past Saturday marked the completion of work on their 2,500 house in their 21st year of operation. That’s something to be proud of - 2,500 people who had their homes and their well beings preserved. With all that time and the amount of volunteers needed, it’s clear to see that Louisville cares about its people - something which will hopefully continue for a long time to come.