Retired Austin resident Mattie Brisco began noticing that she needed to make repairs on her home several months ago. The floor in her back room was aged and brittle, cracks scaled the walls and several doors would only close if properly coaxed with force.
Realizing her age and fixed income meant she couldn’t afford the type of improvements she wanted, she applied to and was accepted by the annual Labor of Love project.
Labor of Love is a one-day event, sponsored by Eyes on Austin (EOA), 5519 W. North Ave. The event brings together volunteers from Austin, Oak Park, River Forest, and Ottawa, Ill. to repair the homes of elderly and disabled residents.
It will be held this Saturday, Aug. 18.
“It was a friend of mine that had told me about the program. I am so thankful that I was accepted,” said Brisco, who has been retired for 12 years and has lived in her home in Austin for nearly 20. “It is really wonderful that I’m going to have these improvements made.”
The Labor of Love has been held every August for six years, birthed by a chance encounter between EOA members James Hammonds and Sonny Jackson and Debbie Devron at a summer camp seven years ago.
“[Sonny and I] had attended a camp in 2000 and met Ms. Devron, who was telling us about the Labor of Love project she had in Ottawa Ill.,” said Hammonds, program director of Eyes on Austin. “I thought it sounded like the perfect thing for the Austin community where we have a large elderly population, many of whom had few resources to make repairs on their homes.”
Since then, Hammonds, Jackson and his wife, Jean (Eyes on Austin’s executive director) have spent the early summer recruiting applicants and volunteers for the program.
They have garnered financial support from Shorebank, and supplies have been donated by Menard’s, Home Depot and Target. The staff of the aforementioned businesses have also contributed time in working on the houses.
39th District state Senator Don Harmon and 78th District state Representative Deborah Graham, both briefly put aside bills awaiting their signatures to pick up paint brushes at last year’s Labor of Love.
In fact, Harmon has been one of the staunchest supporters of Labor of Love. During one of his political rallies in 2002, he attracted the attention of Oak Park resident Steve Fruth.
“This is my fourth year volunteering for the Labor of Love, and I have been spreading the word about the project because it really is a wonderful project,” said Fruth, a trial lawyer for Allstate Insurance. The volunteer turnout is usually strong, Fruth said, as is the level of sacrifice required from volunteers to make the event happen.
“August is a really difficult month for recruiting volunteers because it’s usually the time when college students are returning to campus, parents of middle school students are preparing them for back to school, and everyone finds themselves extremely busy,” said Fruth. “Nevertheless, they still come out to the tune of around 200 every year to support us by assisting in the fixing of a house. It is a beautiful thing.”
During the planning process, organizers must decide which homes are going to be visited by the Labor of Love volunteers. As would be expected, they must filter through hundreds of applications to decide on the 30 homes that time permits them to address in 10 hours.
The requirements Labor of Love looks for have remained unchanged:
Applicants must live in Austin.
The repairs they request must be completable in one day. For example, those dealing with the cosmetics of the house (hole in the roof, screen on the door ripped, etc.) as opposed to replacing an entire roof.
Applicants must own the property they want the repairs to be made on.
Applicants must be in what could be referred to as a “low-income” property.
Applicants must be either elderly or disabled.
The group meets at Fraternite Notre Dame Church, 502 N. Central Ave. (a block north of Lake Street) at 7 a.m. for breakfast. They will leave the church at 8 a.m. and work until 5 p.m. A captain is chosen for each group, generally a tradesman who can lead each repair job and oversee the quality. Workers are sent refreshments and lunch, with dinner served back at the church at the end of the day.
For information on volunteering for this year’s Labor of Love or to obtain an application for next year’s event, contact Eyes on Austin at 773/479-1569.