2015-02-04 / One Minute Interview

One minute with Rebuilding Together Oakland County’s Gale Frazee


Rebuilding Together Oakland County is a non-profit organization providing free housing repair and community service work to low-income homeowners in Oakland County. (Photo submitted.) Rebuilding Together Oakland County is a non-profit organization providing free housing repair and community service work to low-income homeowners in Oakland County. (Photo submitted.) There are dozens of organizations, foundations and charities that build houses, drill water wells and carry out large, onetime projects around the county and world.

But many elderly, poor and needy folks may already have a home with running water but just need some help to maintain what they already have. One organization helping those individuals is right here in Oakland County, Rebuilding Together Oakland County.

Rebuilding Oakland first began as an outreach of a Texas church, but later was “imported” to a local United Methodist Church and took on a broader appeal to reach outside its congregational doors. The Spinal Column caught up with Gale Frazee who heads up the non-profit organization.

What was your path to joining Rebuilding Together Oakland County?

“It was through my church, Orchard United Methodist Church. A group took on a project to help what was called Christmas In April and they needed volunteers to carry boards and hammering nails, things like that. That was 10 or 12 years ago.”

So Rebuilding Together is a smaller scale of Habitat for Humanity?

“We repair homes as opposed to building homes … We are in the business of repairing homes for people who already own their homes and are trying to stay in that community.” There’s probably a huge need for that.

“Yes, there is. We are an all-volunteer organization with over 1,400 volunteers that get involved each year. Our signature rebuild day is usually the last Saturday in April and this year that’s April 25.”

“During our rebuild day is when we do about 40 different homes in Oakland County with all 1,400 volunteers running around. Our mission is to make the home safe, energy efficient and comfortable. If it’s an elderly person – which it usually is – we make sure the grab bars are easy so they can transition in the bathroom. We also take carpeting out and put down flooring that makes it easier for them to get around, and put in ramps where necessary … to make it easier for them to get around their house and better able to use their facilities.”

“We also aim to help the home become more energy efficient with things like insulation and roofing to a small degree, as well as doors and energy efficient windows. We try to make the home comfortable so it appears better than when we arrived. We do a lot of painting work, outside yard work and things like that, which make the homeowner feel like their home is a better place to be.”

How does a homeowner get on your list to be helped?

“Homeowners come to us a number of different ways. We put out public service announcements that they can respond to. We also have community organizations that find these homeowners. In Southfield we have a municipal organization that has over 250 low-income homeowner clients. Churches and social service agencies tell us about their clients that need home repair. And these folks all make applications.”

Where do your volunteers come from?

“We make appeals through churches, through civic clubs like the Lions Club, through municipalities – there are a lot of places our volunteers come from including the Spinal Column, which has been very helpful in the past. People can also sign up on our website.”

Do you have a lot of youth groups and/or scouting organizations that volunteer their time?

“That’s interesting, we’re firmly of the opinion that volunteerism has to start at a young age or volunteerism will go away. We work through schools – typically through honor societies and other school clubs – to get kids, ages 12 to 18, to work in our yard clean up program that takes place on rebuilding day. When seniors apply for help to repair their home the teens show up and help clean up yards.”

How do you get your materials? Are they donated?

“We have businesses, like Iverson’s Lumber who has been a great organization to work with the past 20 years, that make donations. We also write grants to foundations, businesses and churches and they provide either the materials or the funding to purchase the materials. We also have businesses like Lowes and Home Depot on the national level that gives us a discount to purchase supplies for a project.”

You have the big rebuild day in April but what do you do throughout the year?

“We do what’s called the Minor Home Repair Program. A homeowner’s home that we work on the last Saturday in April may have 30-40 people there working on all types of projects for that one day – kind of a massive rebuild day. But during the year our Minor Home Repair project has volunteers, usually one or two people – handymen – who go and take care of a project that takes less than four hours to do and costs less than $500. That could be a leaky toilet or the installation of some grab bars – things like that. We need volunteers all year long.”

“One last program we have is Off Cycle Projects. This is for people who may not be able to work on the main day in April so a large group of volunteers from an organization, business or church come in and work a large, one day, rebuild project. We do between six and ten of those a year.”

So you’re looking for skilled and unskilled volunteers?

“Yes, we are always challenged to find enough skilled volunteers such as plumbers, electricians, pipefitters and carpenters. Some work needs permits. We are always looking for retirees to help us throughout the year and we are always looking for donations whether it be materials or financial. Each year it’s been more difficult to get those donations and funding to run more projects. A lot of foundations are helping Detroit through the Grand Bargain and Oakland County is seen as more affluent but not’s that always the case. There are those here who need our assistance.”

Rebuilding Together Oakland County is an affiliate of Rebuilding Together. You can learn more at www.rebuildingtogether-oaklandcounty.org or by calling 248-432-6551.

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