Michiko Stehrenberger’s deck felt something like a trampoline.
“The main support beam was bowed,” she said. “It wasn’t the right structural grade, I guess, for what was needed, so it bounced when you walked on it.”
“It’s definitely an eyesore,” she added.
But her problem is being solved by a new Habitat for Humanity program called A Brush with Kindness that fixes up homes rather than raising new ones.
Demand for new Habitat for Humanity homes is down because fewer people can afford them, said Eula Hickam, board chair for Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho. Habitat staff needed to find other ways to continue to fulfill the organization’s mission, and A Brush with Kindness was born.
“In the United States, we’re kind of leveling off with new construction,” Hickam said. “Too many families just can’t do it now. They’re staying in their old homes.”
The goal of the program is to help the elderly, disabled and low-income families and individuals with home repairs they cannot pay a contractor to do, such as wheelchair ramp installation and weatherproofing.
“It’s a program for people who are homeowners but can’t pay for repairs,” Hickam said. “It’s to help them maintain their homes and fix them up.”
A handful of A Brush with Kindness volunteers congregated at Stehrenberger’s split-level home Saturday to help her with the much-needed deck work.
Stehrenberger, who moved from Seattle to Post Falls in May, was unemployed until two months ago. She wants housemates to help cover the house payment, she said, but can’t rent out any of the home’s four bedrooms until the saggy deck is up to code.
The help was a deal she couldn’t pass up. She’ll pay off the supplies over the next two years, and the labor is provided free of charge by a small team of volunteers.
“It makes it affordable to me to be able to do a repair I otherwise would have to put off,” she said. “It would be a much lower priority. Now it’s going to be up to code.”
But those helping her aren’t just volunteers. Stehrenberger considers them good friends. From April to October, she participated in a Habitat for Humanity build to make connections in the area, help out in her new community and learn how to make repairs on her newly purchased house.
Now, the people she worked with on that build are helping her out with her own home.
“They’re wonderful,” she said. “It’s snowing on them as they put this deck together. I’m trying not to be corny, but I’m really touched by that. They could be at home with their feet next to the fire.”
Come springtime, they’ll be ready to power wash the deck and give it a fresh coat of paint, which is also donated. Then Stehrenberger will be ready to entertain friends outdoors and take in tenants.
To qualify for A Brush with Kindness, homeowners must meet a certain income level, pay back material costs and participate in the work where they can, among other things.
So far, about five projects have been completed through the program.
But, Hickam said, “Eventually we hope to do a lot more.”
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