By MARY ANN O’TOOLE HOLLEY
What began as a feud with her neighbor over leaves falling from a 50-foot pin oak tree in her yard, ended with homeowner Augustine Brooks crying tears of joy after union members and community volunteers made needed repairs to her house, raked the leaves and made her home livable again.
Members of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 and Glaziers Local 513 joined community volunteers May 4 for the 24th year of Rebuilding Together. Local 562 Union Representative and Rebuilding coordinator Mark Morgan said they would be working on 47 homes during the one-day blitz, 11 of which were the homes of veterans.
Morgan organizes the Local’s work each year starting at least six months in advance, coordinating with the Rebuilding Together organization. Each year, he reminds the members before they head out that they’re saving someone’s home, providing a service some homeowners wouldn’t otherwise get.
The union volunteers turned out early, ready for a day of work, not for the glory but to “give back.”
‘NOTHING LIKE A HUG’
“There’s nothing like a hug from a lady in tears, when you know you’re doing something good,” said Local 562 member Dennis Robinson.
Local 562 member Dave Fichtenmayer, foreman and master plumber with Albert Arno Heating, Cooling and Plumbing, said his crew had planned installation of two new toilets, a water heater and some faucets at the home drenched in wet oak leaves. When the crew got inside, they found conditions were worse than expected.
“There are some unfortunate people who have gotten the bad end of the stick,” Fichtenmayer said as crews of Plumbers and Glaziers maneuvered around volunteers raking mounds of leaves in the yard.
Mrs. Brooks said she could hardly believe the kindness of the volunteers who were making much needed repairs — and raking those leaves. Citizen volunteers did their best to clear the clumps clogging her gutters.
Ironically, Mrs. Brooks might never have gotten the help she needed were it not for the leaves falling from her tree.
“I’ve been having a terrible time with my neighbor. He keeps raking the leaves from his yard and dumping them in my yard, because he says they’re from my tree,” said Brooks. “I went to City Hall and they said there was nothing they could do.”
While she tried to resolve the mounds of leaves on her property, Brooks was referred to the Rebuilding Together organization, where she filed an application for help.
A tall, wide mound of leaves divided her yard from her neighbor’s. One of her home’s front window was broken , the interior was badly in need of painting and, Fichtenmayer found out, the plumbing situation was a mess. He said the home’s condition was some of the worst he’d seen.
‘I THOUGH THEY WERE JUST COMING TO FIX MY WATER’
Mrs. Brooks was fretting as the volunteers made their way through and around her home.
“My bathtub faucet has been running for two years,” she said, looking down shamefully. “It wouldn’t turn off. I didn’t have money to fix it and my water bill was outrageous. I didn’t know what to do with a $600 water bill. It was an emergency, so I wrote a check to make sure the water was on when the men came. I know it’s gonna bounce.”
Fichtenmayer said Local 562 took care of the water bill.
Fixing the running facet and raking the leaves were only the beginning of the rebuilding efforts.
Local 513 volunteers fixed the broken picture window. Volunteers and donations also provided an oven that works –– Mrs. Brooks said her kitchen was out of commission for at least two years –– a new water heater, new interior doors that close properly, sewage stack pipes and vents, and other upgrades and repairs to ensure safe living conditions.
During one toilet repair, Fichtenmayer learned that the floor in one of the bathrooms had gotten wet and become unstable. Rebuilding will bring in a carpenter for the floor and Local 562 plumbers plan to return next week to complete the work.
“I thought they were just coming out to fix my water,” Brooks said, fighting back tears. “I’ve lived in this house 21 years…. This is wonderful.”
The Rebuilding Together-St. Louis organization receives significant support from Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, the Electrical Connection (a partnership between IBEW Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association), Glaziers Local 513 and Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, as well as financial support from the Rockwood and Tri-County Labor clubs’ union Tug-o-War fundraiser.
Rebuilding Together also hosts various community and veterans’ builds throughout the year.
Additional financial support is provided through corporate sponsors, foundation grants and individual donations.
For more information, visit RebuildingTogether-Stl.org or call 314-918-9918.
See additional photos from the event here.