EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 11, 2012

Getting her lucky break

Group repairs roof, wants to help improve other homes

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — Deborah Langlois, 57, said she hasn’t had much good fortune lately.

But that changed when the unemployed Haverhill woman learned a group called Rebuilding Together Greater Haverhill had agreed to replace the badly deteriorated roof of her home for free.

“I can’t believe it,” Langlois said of the nonprofit home-repair organization’s decision to help her. “Things like this usually don’t happen to me. I lost my job a couple years ago and things haven’t been great since.”

Langlois, who lives with her son in the Atwood Road home she has owned for 23 years, said her roof leaked in several spots, but that she couldn’t afford to replace it.

“My son climbed on the roof and put up a tarp, but that didn’t work too good,” she said.

Langlois said she contacted City Hall and other charitable organizations, but they turned her down.

“Everyone said they couldn’t help me because I don’t live in the inner city,” she said. “That’s what the city said too. But you don’t have to live in the inner city to fall on hard times or need a little help.”

The local Rebuilding Together group, which is an offshoot of the national program by the same name, specializes in home repairs, accessibility improvements and energy-efficiency upgrades for people who meet federal low-income guidelines.

Michael McGonagle, a city councilor and president of Rebuilding Together Greater Haverhill, said Langlois is a good example of the kind of person the program is designed to help.

And this year in particular, he said the group has an enviable and somewhat unusual problem: It has more money than people to help.

“Despite the poor economy and our efforts to publicize the program with churches and community groups, we only have eight applications since we began accepting them in November,” McGonagle said.

“We are usually people’s last resort after everyone else has turned them down,” he said. “That’s why we want to get the word out that we’re here and we have resources and that you don’t have to live in the inner city to get help, as long as you meet the income guidelines.”

While the group handles emergency projects like Langlois’ roof throughout the year, most of its activities are geared toward the big Rebuilding Together Day the last Saturday in April. On the last Rebuilding Together Day, more than 200 paid contractors and volunteers completed 13 home repair jobs in the coverage area, which includes Haverhill, Merrimmac, Georgetown, Groveland, West Newbury, Boxford and Plaistow, McGonagle said.

According to the group’s Web site, the Greater Haverhill chapter began in 1991 as “Christmas in April.” Since then, more than 1,500 volunteers have performed hundreds of building renovations, accessibility modifications and energy efficiency upgrades to more than 400 homes worth $1.5 billion in total, according to the Web site.

McGonagle said the group gets its money from private donations from individuals, corporations and businesses, including local banks and trusts, and $30,000 annually from Haverhill’s federal affordable housing funds. It also holds an annual golf tournament to raise money, he said.

For more information, McGonagle said anyone living in the group’s coverage area should call 978-469-0800.