Roamin' Catholic Seniors

Helping hands needed for Catholic Charities’ Fix-It Program

on December 11, 2014

I’ll be the first to admit that since the loss of my brother Pete, two years ago, maintenance of the home we shared has been lacking and it’s been getting me down.

Tom Connors

Tom Connors

We’re not talking major jobs here like an electrical up grade where you’d bring in a contractor. We’re talking about small jobs, the kind Pete so easily handled, which require a degree of strength, agility and basic home repair know how that I lack. Most revolve around keeping the temperature of this small house on a slab liveable in the winter.

Take the kitchen window over the sink for instance. For months the condition of this bigger than average window has been irritating. As I washed dishes, I couldn’t help but notice the web of vines that somehow inserted themselves between the storm glass and the regular window pane inside. Then, aside from the air that leaked in around the frame, there was the spectral sight of the deceased insects that rode in on the vines. Argh!
To personally clean up the mess, I’d have had to ascend a ladder and basically stand on the counter to reach the window.
The days when I’d tackle a project like that are behind me and as to sealing out the drafts that whooshed through the patio door last winter, my DIY skills (gleaned from Internet searches) were, putting it kindly, not up to par.
With winter rushing in and the Farmer’s Almanac reeking of doom, gloom and snow once again, I reached out to the Catholic Charities Fix-It program which I’d written about several times for The Monitor.

The program is located in Ocean County where I live and where, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, the 60-plus population factors out at 27.2% of the total with 157,064 individuals. The figures also show that one of the fastest growing segments of the sixty plus population are those eighty-five and over. That demographic group which number 8,697 in 1990, increased to 14,914 in 2000 and 19,610 in 2010.

No wonder Catholic Charities came up with a program that could help the aging population maintain the homes they dearly want to stay in.
In response to my call for help with winterizing, Tom Connors, who coordinates the program, scheduled an appointment several days later. In the space of about an hour, tasks that were impossible for me were addressed. The window over the sink was removed so I could wash it and then Tom put it back in and placed weatherstripping around it.

The leaky spots around the patio door were covered with a strong, silvery tape that keeps the drafts out and the temperature up in the kitchen.
In addition, weather stripping was placed around other windows and a pet portal between the porch and the living room that my cat, James, absolutely refused to use, was removed so the window could close more securely. I was able to earmark the portal for the local animal shelter where, hopefully it will find its way to a cat who wants to use it.

During his visit, Tom shared how the Fix-It program provided similar services for over 500 Ocean County households last year. He expects the number will be about the same this year. “We could do more if we had more volunteers,” Tom said. “The need is definitely there,” he added, noting that priority goes to homes where safety is a concern. “We get about 40 calls a month and most of them are related to safety.”

The minor home repairs and chore services are mainly those that a home owner would be able to do – such as grab bar installations or putting a cabinet door back on track. Minor electrical work would include repairing and outlet or switch or replacing a doorbell that no longer works.
Minor plumbing would include tasks such as changing washers in a faucet. Chore services could include changing bulbs in lights that are up in the ceiling and batteries and getting storm and screen doors in place at change of season.

Since the chores are aimed at ensuring the safety of the residents, volunteers will hang a picture or curtains, for instance, if it keeps a resident off a ladder. They don’t repair sprinkler systems or paint rooms.

Because they are working with a relatively small number of volunteers, Fix-It is able to handle only occasional yard work such as trimming a bush or cleaning gutters. With more volunteers, the program would be able to take on more yard work, Tom said.
“Lots of seniors have anxiety about the outside of their homes,” said Tom, adding that volunteers who could tackle such chores would be greatly appreciated.

Tom said the Fix-It program volunteers are mostly retired, come from all walks of life and have varying skill sets. Some can do everything the program offers and some do one specific thing. The program is willing to work with varying schedules, he said, noting that some volunteers do many jobs a week and some take on one or two a month.

He noted also that some of the volunteers travel the entire county but most prefer to work close to home.
If assistance is needed in jobs that the program can’t take on, Catholic Charities will reach out to other agencies and try to find appropriate help, he said.

If you have skills to offer and would consider volunteering, please contact Tom at (732-363-5322, Ext. 3234.

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