Eyes on Austin is once again calling on volunteers-regardless of their experience level in house repair-to join their annual “Labor of Love” on Saturday, Aug. 19.
At this year’s fifth annual event, approximately 200 volunteers will fix floor boards, repair leaning screen doors, plug holes in leaking roofs, wash windows, clean garages and a myriad other small jobs all as means of fostering unity and re-energizing the community.
The event, sponsored by Eyes on Austin (EOA), 5519 W. North Ave., begins at 7 a.m. at Fraternite Notre Dame Church, 502 N. Central Ave., just north of Lake Street, where Bishop Jean Marie Roger Kozik and the French nuns will start the volunteers off with a prayer and breakfast before the work crews begin.
Volunteer residents from the Austin community, along with residents from Oak Park, Ottawa, and Indiana will work alongside more experienced carpenters, roofers and welders to repair the homes of seniors and disabled residents from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or some portion of that time if you only have a few hours to spare).
The houses are chosen based on time and necessity from the dozens of applications EOA has received.
“The houses we choose to visit must be low-income properties, owned by the resident,” said Jean Jackson, executive director of Eyes on Austin. “They should be senior with limited physical capacity, and their requested repairs must be doable within a 12-hour frame (including potential two-hour overtime) so that nothing is left undone.”
Jackson herself has lived in Austin since 1979 and considers the Labor of Love project essential to the development and revitalization of the largest community in Chicago.
“Every year we attract the attention of new sponsors looking to assist with making this project happen,” said Jackson, highlighting in particular retailers donating supplies and in same cases workers to assist with the repair work, such as Home Depot in The Brickyard.
“We are very thankful for [39th District state Senator] Don Harmon for faithfully getting out the word of our mission to his constituents in Oak Park and at his church,” said Jackson. “It is very much in the spirit of our mission to get everyone from Austin and neighboring communities involved in helping increase the quality of life of those in their surrounding locations.”
Ralph Lee, a resident of Oak Park and a retired chemistry professor at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 N. Scoville, first participated in the Labor of Love last year when he received information about the program through his congregation at Unity Temple.
“I received this mailer from my church about the Labor of Love and thought, ‘Well, I do carpentry, plumbing and electrical work, and it’s only a one-day affair, so why not?'” said Lee, who also spoke candidly about his neighbors in Oak Park and their frequent tunnel vision when it comes to working to improve the West Side neighborhood it sits a cul-de-sac away from.
“Steven Fruth, also a resident of Oak Park and an attorney, first became involved with Labor of Love in 2003 and sat on the project’s planning committee for the first time this year.
Fruth is no stranger to faith-based home repair outreach initiatives. He has volunteered with the Appalachia Service Project in Johnson City, Tenn. through his church, helping to repair doors, windows and roofs for needy families.
Fruth, who joined the planning committee last February, said that despite the enormous amount of work that goes into planning each event (next year’s Labor of Love will begin its planning stage mere days after this one ends) it is always worth it when he sees the number of supporters who have contributed to the project in the three years he has been involved.
“Supplies have been donated by Wal-Mart, Target, and Roser’s Bakery and others, allowing us the chance to continue running the Labor of Love the third Saturday of August the last several years, and their generosity speaks to the commitment we all have to help improve the neighborhood.”
Because of the enormous volume of applications the organization receives annually, 12 hours doesn’t allow enough time to visit each home. However, according to Jackson, no one is dismissed.
“We will save an application until next year if we have to, but we won’t ignore any request once we’ve agreed to repair it,” said Jackson. “We feel bad when we must turn certain people down or postpone their home visit, but we do inform them of it a week in advance. Last year, we were able to see 35 houses.”
The types of repairs to be done will generally be of a cosmetic nature, like a screen door that is leaning, caulking on walls with severe cracking. The group, however, will not do repairs that may affect the value of the home or would require a permit to fix.
The initiators of the project include Sonny Jackson (husband of Jean), James Hammonds, and Jean Jackson herself, who still works full-time as a medical technician.
A committee decides which houses will be visited, as well as choosing the captain of each team. The captain is usually a tradesman who can lead the repair job and assures that they are done with timely precision.
Each team captain works with the community volunteers on one specific house. Team leaders have walkie-talkies connecting them with supervisors should they encounter problems during the job. Refreshments are provided along with an afternoon lunch break and dinner following completion of the work.
Some of the tradesmen volunteering for the program come all the way from Ottawa, Ill. Sonny Jackson, himself a tradesman on windows, was able to obtain the services of carpenters through his connections.
Others, known more for their handling of a fountain pen rather than a paint brush have become regulars.
“Last year [78th District state Representative] Deborah Graham was painting and fixing doors, and it really showed the true spirit of the event,” said Jackson. “Even busy legislators can give their time to the cause. It’s truly inspiring.”
For information on volunteering for this year’s Labor of Love or to obtain an application for next year’s, contact Eyes on Austin at 773/479-1569.