Spirit of Giving volunteers work to renovate city home

January 2, 2016

Over two dozen volunteers gathered Saturday to begin renovating a city home that a family was recently forced to leave due to its decrepit condition.

The effort was organized by Spirit of Giving, a nonprofit established 13 years ago by local emergency services agencies. Every year, Spirit of Giving holds a holiday campaign providing toys, clothing and other donations to local families in need. This year, the organization is going a step further by renovating an entire house.

In early December, members of Spirit of Giving began looking into the situation of a family living on Newtown Street. For privacy reasons, the family and exact address cannot be publicly identified. The family was forced from the home due to its condition and is now staying with other family members, according to David Lowell, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Hunter’s Ambulance.

For the past month, Spirit of Giving has worked to organize volunteers. Lowell called the effort the “largest undertaking Spirit of Giving has ever done.”

“Everybody is just helping out,” he said Saturday while standing on the roof of the Newtown Street home.

Lowell and Chief Housing Inspector Thomas Kilroy were working to repair a leak in the roof that was causing water damage in a first floor bathroom.

Newton Street was lively Saturday morning, packed with vehicles from around 30 volunteers. Some worked outside, like Lowell and Kilroy, while others were inside painting, cleaning or fixing holes in walls. Before volunteers descended on the house Saturday, it was gutted at no cost by LaRosa Construction, of Meriden. The company also donated materials, Lowell said. A crew from Haberli Electric, of Meriden, ensured there were no electrical issues in the house. The work was done free of charge. Brian Mitchell, an electrical inspector for the city, checked to make sure everything was up to code. He also lent a hand painting.

“We’re part of the city and we’re there for the people, whether it’s on the clock or off the clock,” he said.

There was still much work to be done as of late Saturday morning, but things were progressing quickly.

“It’s not easy to make a race horse from a donkey,” Mitchell said.

The Carabetta Companies volunteered to help replace flooring and plumbing in the house. O&G Industries, the construction firm working on the Platt High School renovation project, assisted with materials and manpower as well. Fiderio and Sons, a local home remodeling firm, was scheduled to assist as well, Lowell said. Several local retail stores donated materials and other items, such as furnishings for the house. Northside Self Storage donated a storage container to hold the family’s belongings.

Tara Ellef, of Southington, was crucial in getting many items donated to the family, according to Donna Hunter, who heads Hunter’s Ambulance. Ellef is president of Soft Surroundings, a clothing store with locations nationwide. With her connections, the entire house will be decorated and furnished, Hunter said.

Many items were purchased through monetary donations, according to Ellef.

“It’ll be 100 percent livable when we’re done,” she said while painting trim in the living room.

Hunter described the family living in the house as “wonderful” and deserving of the renovation.

Activity at the house Saturday reminded city resident and volunteer Susan Bristol of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” an ABC television show in which volunteers raced to renovate homes in just a week. Bristol once lived in the Newton Street home from the early 1980s until she sold it in 1996.

“It was a beautiful house,” she said. “This was our family home.”

Dominic Esposito, the city’s assistant building inspector, was replacing sheetrock in an upstairs bathroom on Saturday. He brought his six-year-old son Dominic along to help.

“It’s not good,” Esposito said of conditions in the house. “It’s in a state of disrepair for sure.”

But with a shared mindset, volunteers were confident they could bring the house back to life.

“This is how our city and citizens get together to give back,” said Miguel Castro, owner of Prestige Construction. Castro and Lowell both serve on the City Council. Castro brought his 13-year-old daughter along to “show her a sense of how to help.”

“We are a city of kindness,” Castro added. “Everybody is in the same mindset. Hopefully this is something we can continue to do in the future.”

Work is expected to take place over the next two weeks. Lowell said volunteers are still needed to help paint next weekend.