Volunteers help Turn Back the Block

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Mike Brion spent the morning of May 16 tearing an addition off of an old house on Broad Street.

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Volunteers with the E-Z-Go project finish painting a house at the Bring Back the Block location off Broad Street in Augusta. Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver came to thank the group for their work in the community Thursday.   SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Volunteers with the E-Z-Go project finish painting a house at the Bring Back the Block location off Broad Street in Augusta. Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver came to thank the group for their work in the community Thursday.

“I don’t think I wan t to make it a full-time kind of employment, but it was fun,” he said.

Brion was one of 45 finance employees from Textron Inc. businesses across the country who participated in the community service effort.

Partly as a team-building exercise and partly as a way to give back to the community, the few hours of community service was very much appreciated by volunteers at Turn Back the Block, a nonprofit dedicated to rehabilitating Harrisburg.

“In one morning, they completely painted the exterior of two houses, demoed the exterior addition (of one house) and painted a fence,” said Anne Catherine Murray, the president of Turn Back the Block. “That would have normally taken days and days.”

The participants are recent graduates who are participating in Textron’s Leadership Development Program.

E-Z-Go, which is owned by Textron, played host to a three-day finance-training program and approached Turn Back the Block to volunteer their service.

“It’s a combination of team-building and really trying to give back in a worthwhile way to a community that’s been so good to E-Z-Go for the last 60 years,” said E-Z-Go President Kevin Holleran.

Turn Back the Block was form­ed three years ago when local busi­­­ness people decided to do something to help Harrisburg.

“We noted that there’s a high rate of vacancy and a high rate of rental occupancy in Harrisburg,” said Anne Catherine Murray, the president of the nonprofit.

“We feel that homeownership can really help turn around a community, so we thought why not combine those two things.”

The all-volunteer organization acquires abandoned or vacant houses, rehabilitates them using volunteer labor and donated materials and sells the home to people who might not otherwise be able to purchase a home.

Buyers must have a steady income, must complete financial counseling and put in 350 hours of sweat equity.

Then they will qualify for a no-interest loan to purchase a home, with the stipulations that they can’t flip the house or sublet it.

“So far it’s worked,” Murray said. “We’ve got people lined up for every one of these houses.”

Currently, volunteers are rehabilitating a row of houses on Broad Street. When they are all completed, work will begin on three more houses the organization has acquired deeper into the neighborhood, Murray said.

Brion said the experience gave him a new perspective about those who are less fortunate.

While the workers ate a boxed lunch, Mayor Deke Copenhaver thanked them for their service, and Murray shared the story of her encounter just a few minutes before with a woman who stopped her on the sidewalk to inquire about the work that was being peformed.

The woman told Murray that two years ago she was homeless, but now has a folder filled with job skills and training she had been working on through the Kroc Center, the Salvation Army and her church. The woman said she started her own non-profit, had just gotten a job and was interested in participating in the program to earn a home of her own.

Brion said he appreciated hearing a first-hand account of why his efforts had been so important.

“I think we should do it in the future because hearing her tell the story of how she ran into the lady. It’s pretty awesome to hear a first hand account of how much it means to the community,” he said.


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