Find the Recession's Silver Lining: Thousands Volunteer To Rebuild Homes

02/01/2011 03:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Gary A. Officer Vice President of Global Engagement and Chief Development Officer, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

When Jose Castro moved to Dallas from San Luis Potosi, Mexico 10 years ago, he and his family wanted nothing more than the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. Jose worked tirelessly, holding down a steady job and becoming a U.S. citizen. He was even able to save enough to buy a house. His American Dream was seemingly realized.
And then the recession hit. The two jobs he works in building maintenance have all but dried up, leaving him with little money to get food on the table for his four small children. His house -- an enormous source of pride, and "trophy" for achieving the American Dream has fallen into a state of disrepair.

Eight trillion dollars of wealth have been lost to the housing crash in the form of foreclosures and accelerated depreciation; over 1 million U.S. foreclosed homes were reported at the end of 2010, topping previous foreclosure records; and an estimated 1.4 million homes are projected to be foreclosed in the coming year. These are more than just statistics -- these represent American families, neighbors and communities -- facing incredible challenges, some of the worst in our nation's history. Unless we use our collective resources, efforts and informed political decisions, it will take decades for the return of real estate as a profitable investment for hardworking American families.

Like so many Americans, Jose is forced to choose between making critical repairs to his home to keep it safe and livable, paying the mortgage or putting food on the table. Rebuilding Together takes some of the burden off of homeowners by making those much needed repairs.
We are the only nonprofit housing organization fully dedicated to rebuilding existing housing stock in low-income communities. Our focused efforts conserve not only the history and intergenerational wealth of neighborhoods, but it also stabilizes them by rebuilding affordable homes for the people who reside and invest in these communities.

The Castro family's home on Drummond Drive in Arlington, Texas is just one of the 12 homes Rebuilding Together is rebuilding while providing community clean up and restorative services. Rebuilding Together volunteers are providing the Castro's home with a new foundation, flooring and windows will be installed. Other repairs include drywall, exterior and electrical work. Many of the modifications are energy efficient focused, to ensure lower utility bills and a livable home for the family of six.

On February 3 we will hold our 16th annual Kickoff to Rebuild Event in Dallas. Every year, we engage thousands of volunteers in the Super Bowl host city and members of the NFL community to assist low-income neighborhoods. I am inspired by the work of Rebuilding Together's volunteers but Jose's story is just one of many that make me ask myself how can we -- as American citizens and concerned neighbors solve the seemingly unceasing housing crisis?

It starts at a grass roots level. I encourage everyone to considering volunteering because hardworking American families deserve to stay in their homes. Our volunteers, both skilled tradespersons and every day citizens, are the backbone of our efforts to meet the needs of these homeowners. We serve low-income homeowners nationwide by engaging over 200,000 volunteers annually. We can make a positive impact in the community and for some; it's the silver lining between staying in their homes or falling through the cracks. We have established unique programs that serve the needs of local community, while making an impact nationally.

Kickoff to Rebuild is just the start of our efforts in 2011. By the close of the year, we also will have completed Rebuild 1000, our commitment to help restore homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast region. In total, we will have completed nearly 10,000 projects in 2011. Thanks for the support of our many volunteers and sponsors and the terrific work of our network to preserve our neighborhoods, especially for those who need a helping hand and are looking for the silver lining.