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Workers, volunteers repair aging houses in Oklahoma City

Residents of northeast Oklahoma City received home spruce-ups during a project in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
BY PETER WRIGHT Published: January 26, 2013

When Eunice Russell first saw the pale pink house with its hot pink garage, she fell in love.

But in the 17 years since she moved in, the house on NE 14 has aged, and love alone won't paint the walls.

“I didn't have the money to do anything to this place,” said Russell, 70. “It was just getting depressing.”

This week, a team of workers moved furniture, put down tarps and provided fresh coats of paint in three of the rooms. The house smells new again and her bedroom is a clean shade of “beautiful pink.”

“I'm just in awe of these young women and the work that they have done in this short period of time,” she said.

National event

Russell's house was one of 10 projects near Interstate 35 between NE 23 and NE 10 renovated by 65 members of CapacityCorps, a national program that stations young workers at Rebuilding Together chapters across the country. Rebuilding Together is a nonprofit that renovates homes for senior citizens.

The CEC Triangle, a combination of the Creston Hills South, Edwards Community and Carverdale neighborhoods, was targeted for this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Workweek, bringing CapacityCorps members from across the country to Oklahoma City to join local volunteers from schools and service organizations.

Standing in the lobby of the Douglas Recreation Center as workers arrived for lunch on Thursday, Bill Basl, national director of AmeriCorps, said he recognized some new faces in the mix.

“On Thursday last week, I issued an oath of service in Washington, D.C., and today is their second week of service,” Basl said.

AmeriCorps is a federal program that provides 75,000 jobs for people in community service organizations and helps fund the CapacityCorps program with Rebuilding Together. Basl came to Oklahoma City because it's unusual to see so many members in one town.

“It's the largest number of AmeriCorps members serving in one place with the grant we provided,” he said.

The workweek kicked off Jan. 19 to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, said Nancy Sharrock, executive director of the Oklahoma Community Service Commission, which oversees AmeriCorps in the state. The annual event is held in a different community every year, and this year Oklahoma City's application won.

The workers

While it brought together a community, a nonprofit and the federal government, it also reunited some friends.

Inside Russell's house, Rachel Lehr tried to name all the places represented on her painting crew — three people from the West Coast, plus Virginia and Alabama, who met while training in August. AmeriCorps members can serve up to two one-year terms, and this is their first year with Rebuilding Together.

Lehr grew up in Manhattan, Kan., which is where Russell's son went to college. After earning a degree in architecture, Lehr wanted to step away from the drafting table for a while.

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