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Volunteers descend to assist widow and help preserve a neighborhood

VIDEO: Helping Edith, building community

A beehive of workers pitch in to tame Edith Nollan's overgrown landscaping and do minor home repair, one of 25 sites where Rebuilding Together South Sound organized an effort to help low-income residents beautify and repair their residences.
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A beehive of workers pitch in to tame Edith Nollan's overgrown landscaping and do minor home repair, one of 25 sites where Rebuilding Together South Sound organized an effort to help low-income residents beautify and repair their residences.

Since her husband, Eugene, of 59 years died six years ago, Edith Nollan hasn’t been able to keep up with all the little things, the maintenance, minor repairs, the weeds and underbrush growing thick among the spring flowers.

She’s 83 and lives alone in the South Tacoma house that’s been her home since 1955. It’s where she and Eugene raised nine children.

“My husband used to take care of this,” Nollan said.

She worried about the house until Saturday morning when a dozen volunteers arrived to help.

Nollan welcomed the group at 8 a.m., and then the work began.

The volunteers were there thanks to a program called Rebuilding Together South Sound, which is aligned with a nationwide effort to assist elderly, disabled or low-income individuals, families with children and veterans.

“I really appreciate what they’re doing, to give up their day,” Nollan said. “I don’t know when I would have gotten this taken care of.”

There was a screen door that needed replacing, along with some bedroom windows upstairs. The living room wall above the fireplace needed some plaster work and the plumbing in the bathroom required attention.

Done and done.

Weeds were abundant in the front garden. Now they’re gone. The quaking aspens had grown obstructive, and now they’ve been sliced into chunks and the chunks have been hauled away. The plaster above the fireplace has dried, as has the caulk in the bathroom.

“We try to help everyone who qualifies,” said Alicia Lawver, a member of the board at Rebuilding Together South Sound.

On Saturday, 700 volunteers with Rebuilding Together South Sound were working to revitalize 25 homes in Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, unincorporated Pierce County, Federal Way and Auburn.

In their latest one-year period, Rebuilding Together South Sound officials expect to rehabilitate 85 houses and engage more than 800 volunteers.

Nationally during the period, the group expects to rehabilitate 10,000 houses while counting some 3 million volunteer hours through 160 affiliates.

Since 2002, the South Sound division has rehabilitated 662 houses and engaged 7,900 volunteers who will have completed nearly 85,000 hours. A year-round program offers “aging-in-place” retrofits that might include the installation of grab bars in bathrooms or the construction and installation of wheelchair-access ramps.

“Sometimes it’s really simple,” Lawver said. “It’s just the little things that eat away at independence. Things get away from you. A lot of people are on a fixed income. It’s about keeping people in their homes, and keeping neighbors as part of the neighborhood.”

Just look at Edith, she said.

“What would this neighborhood be without her?”

It would likely be without the pair of ring-neck doves, Lovey and Dovey, out by the garage; and Sophie the cat; and the box turtles Hockey Puck (with its shell cracked in a fall 15 years ago) and Cassandra. There would be no tub of peanuts for the neighborhood squirrels and the ruby-throated hummingbirds would go without their sugar.

But the work of a dozen volunteers Saturday will help preserve the character of at least one street in one Tacoma neighborhood.

“I think there’s a special spirit here,” said Lawver. “We have pride, we dig in, we’re gritty.”

That spirit has descended onto Edith Nollan’s home.

“I feel this is good for the community. It’s giving back,” said volunteer Abe Adams of Spanaway, a retired state worker.

“We definitely care about building a stronger community,” said Amanda Deshazo of Tacoma.

“My grandma is one of the best people I know,” said Edith’s granddaughter Nadia Napier of Bremerton. “She has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen. Anything you need, she’ll figure out how to help you. I don’t ever remember seeing her upset or angry. Ever.”

“Being a widow, the tiny things piled up over the years. This frees her up from doing those,” said Nathe Lawver, crew captain for the day at the Nollan house.

Edith worked as a custodian at JCPenney and, for 10 years, at Lincoln High School. She counts 18 grandchildren and nearly a dozen great-grandchildren. She knits caps by the hundred for patients at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

And now she no longer needs to fuss over chores unfulfilled.

“It’s just overwhelming,” Edith said. “Oh my gosh.”

For more information

Rebuilding Together South Sound is available by phone on 253-238-0977 or at rebuildingtogetherss.org.

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