By Andy McKeever
02:25AM / Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Carey was given a framed collage with photos from before, during, and after renovation.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Britton Street resident John Carey said what happened to his home is "the American Way."
The elderly veteran is living in the home his grandfather had built. But it was getting old and falling into disrepair and Carey simply couldn't come up with what was needed to make those fixes.
In May, the Health Department cited it for numerous nuisance and housing code violations and fines were set to be $1,000 a day if the repairs weren't made.
His roof was leaking, animals were finding their way inside, the siding was falling off, the stairs were crumbling, and the windows needed sealing. All together it would be costly and the city was on a path to ultimately condemn the home and force him to find somewhere else to live.
But that isn't the part of the story that Carey praised as the American Way. It is what happened to his house between Sept. 29 and Dec. 14 that he was talking about.
Central Berkshire Habitat heard about the situation and didn't want to see Carey lose his home. The organization dropped everything it was doing, rallied volunteers and donors, and made the required repairs -- and even convinced the city to drop the fines.
"They were out here in some cold, bitter days to get it done and we wanted to get it done before Christmas," Habitat Executive Director Carolyn Valli said.
It took 94 volunteers 36 days and 951.5 volunteer hours to get it done. But Carey will be spending Christmas inside his newly repaired home.
"Thank all of you who have come and helped with this project. To this day I can't believe it," Carey said on Tuesday when Habitat held a dedication of the home to honor the completion of the work. "I didn't think I'd ever see it but I did."
Board of Directors Vice President Mark Harris said with Carey being a veteran, "we owe him a debt." And he looked at some of the volunteers who helped and declared that they helped pay some of that back.
Habitat had gotten contacted by the city and Elder Services about the situation and the three parties worked out a plan. Habitat was in the process of building a house in Dalton but put a temporary halt on that to take on Carey's home.
"We have this project going on in Dalton and we kind of said we can put that on hold. We put that on hold and focused here since September. There has been people working on this from all over. This is really a community effort," Board President Thomas Whalen said.
"It was going to cost him a ton of money. He was going to get booted out."
Community Outreach and Development Manager Dawn Giftos said the organization immediately went out to the community looking for donors and volunteers. Giftos said all of the roofing and siding material was donated by groups that wanted to remain anonymous.
City inspectors had previously cited the home for having a number of code violations. Those issues have since been addressed.
Daley & Sons donated a dumpster, Charles Cardillo offered parking, the nearby Lipton Mart provided assistance, and Dunkin' Donuts, the city of Pittsfield, and the neighbors had all joined the effort. The city's RSVP program, Sarah's Cheesecake, Otto's, Subway, Freddies, and the Rainbow provided refreshments for the volunteers working on it.
Ultrawellness, Sacred Heart, RPI, First Congregational Church of Stockbridge, General Dynamics, the Freemasons, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts baseball team all sent volunteers to the site to join Habitat's workers. Volunteers who hadn't been involved with Habitat before were pitching in.
"When we put the plea out on Facebook that we needed help with this veteran's project, they said 'we'll come' and they've been coming and coming and coming," Valli said, adding that many of the new volunteers to the program have now become more involved with the program.
Habitat officials praised the effort, which is unlike most of their work of building new homes, saying that the repairs fit in with its mission.
"Something like this, whether it helping a homeowner staying in their home or building new homes, takes a lot of effort. In general, it is a huge contribution to our community," Whalen said.
The community from all over and in different ways came together to help one of its own. And that's what Carey was referring to.
"It's the American Way and I'm glad to see this continuing," Carey said.