Workers Build Hope; Home Repairs Solve Problems for Elderly, Poor

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Maraghy, Times-Union staff writer

Bonnie Pierson hasn't slept well knowing her front door was decayed and intruders could easily enter her Jacksonville house.

Several times since she first sought assistance in 1996, Pierson said she has arrived home to find transients asleep on her couch.

She was able to smile yesterday through clouds of sawdust as construction workers installed a new door, free of charge.

"You don't know what a blessing this is," Pierson said. "I don't feel safe here. I'm up all nights hearing noises."

The crew installing the door was from Builders Care, a ministry that provides emergency home repairs to low-income, elderly and disabled people. The non-profit organization was founded last year by the Northeast Florida Builders Association, a group of builders and developers from nine Northeast Florida counties.

Pierson, 55, qualified because of income and her disability.

Executive Director Bill Wilson said he and others involved in the ministry have been moved after seeing the plight of "grandmas" who wash dishes with a garden hose because they have no running water. He said he's taken millionaires on tours of such houses and watched their eyes well with tears. The awareness has resulted in cash donations and volunteer work, he said.

That helped fix the structural needs but left needs that saws and hammers couldn't mend.

Such as the 90-year-old woman whose skin was blistered and drooping from a severe burn, but had no one to take medicine to her. Wilson took medicine to her for six weeks.

"I'm a construction guy," Wilson said. "If I'm her safety net, something is wrong."

Builders Care hopes to provide follow-up visits to those it has served and to help them access other needed services. The group is working with Shands Jacksonville, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and Meals on Wheels.

Most of those helped become like family.

After leaving Pierson's house, Wilson went to see Evelena Daniels, who had a first-floor bathtub installed in her home by Builders Care. The 78-year-old woman had been having trouble climbing the stairs to her second-floor bathroom.

"You're beautiful people, beautiful people," Daniels said, shuffling in her stocking feet to hug her visitor.

Builders Care has helped more than 100 homeowners this year, spending about $1.2 million in state funds. …