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Week of Caring -- a time for helping others

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Porches, handicap ramps and other housing needs are among projects to be addressed during the special Week of Caring, Oct. 19-26. Everyone is encouraged to participate.

Since 2001, Rutherford Housing Partnership (RHP) and United Way of Rutherford County have co-sponsored an event to encourage helping others in Rutherford County.

The Week of Caring pairs volunteers with hands-on projects for community nonprofit agencies and senior adults - raking leaves, cleaning flower beds, light housekeeping, etc. Skilled volunteers are also needed to provide urgent repairs, such as handicap ramps or safe porches for qualified low-income families. Coworkers, school and church groups - even retired buddies - volunteer.

The requests for help always outnumber the response of volunteers, said Suzanne Mizsur-Porter, executive director of United Way of Rutherford County. "It's a great opportunity for students to earn community service hours or for coworkers to tackle a project together. Five or six people working together can usually turn out more work than one or two working independently. Many senior adults need simple things done, like changing light bulbs, trimming shrubs away from their windows, general trash removal - things they aren't physically able to do anymore."

This year's event is October 19-26.

Last year, 300 volunteers helped, including the students at REaCH, who are on board to help again, said Lori Lambert of REaCH.

"We strongly encourage students to 'Give Back' to their community, not just while in school, but throughout their entire lives," she said. "We love to know that our actions had a positive effect on someone and enjoy taking part in the Week of Caring every year.

"Seeing the positive effect that putting service into action gives our students, as well as those they help, keeps us coming back every year."

RHP is a local non-profit founded in 1995 to provide urgently needed repairs to the homes of low-income homeowners. To be eligible for help from RHP, the household income must be half of the median income in Rutherford County or lower. Volunteer teams provide labor, and RHP provides materials.

The most common projects tackled by RHP include repairing leaky roofs, broken windows and doors; installing hand rails and/or handicap ramps; and replacing rotten bathroom and kitchen floors.

RHP has identified 19 homes for Week of Caring that need handicap ramps or repairs to porches and steps to make homes safer, said Nell Perry Bovender, RHP executive director. "But that's just the tip of the iceberg" she added.

The needs in this county are tremendous. Recent Census figures indicate more than 10,000 people in Rutherford County - 16 percent of the population - live below the federal poverty line.

About 22% of this county's population is 65 or older, she said.

Plus the county's housing stock is old, much of it in former mill villages. According to the Rutherford County tax office, 40% of houses in the county are 50 years old or older; 15% are 75 years old or older.

More than 5,000 volunteers have joined the countywide effort since it began 18 years ago, according to Bovender. It began as part of the National Make a Difference Day endeavor, but that program has ceased. Not in Rutherford County, she said. "Helping others is what it's all about. Adopting a Week of Caring project and completing it will prove to be very rewarding for anyone willing to do so."

To be matched with a project for a neighbor in need, call 828-248-3431 or email info@RutherfordHousingPartnership.com.

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