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.
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.
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.
“I want to be working in communities where people are in need,” she said.
That's a sentiment shared by Nic Lukehart, leader of a team at another house.
“It transcends boundaries of ethnicity, race, gender and socio-economic conditions,” Lukehart said.
He grew up outside of Washington before going to college in Philadelphia and now works for a Rebuilding Together affiliate in Oakland, Ca. He was always active in politics and community service, but like a lot of the workers, construction is a skill he's learning.
“The biggest challenge we've faced is that none of us are skilled contractors,” he said.
An exterior wall on his project house was so rotted it had to be replaced. The workers ripped out carpet in two rooms and repaired drywall. In old homes, removing a damaged interior wall might reveal a rotted frame.
In one house, they found termite damage. Belva Smith's house has been in her family since it was built in 1946. CapacityCorps workers replaced eight windows, did some interior painting and were removing an air conditioning unit when they found the damaged woodwork, said worker Tim Erkel, who traveled from St. Paul, Minn.
The Edwards Community, where Russell's house is located, was one of the first neighborhoods in Oklahoma City built for black residents by a black developer, said Madeline Whitehorn, special projects supervisor for Rebuilding Together OKC.
W.J. Edwards had amassed a fortune through the junkyard industry and real estate. Starting in the 1940s, he began filling empty lots with homes. Eventually he also founded a church, a school and a hospital, Whitehorn said.
Other developers followed suit, and that's how the CEC Triangle was built. Many families have been in their homes for generations, and some are in disrepair.
Because of its history and needs, Whitehorn highlighted the area when she created Rebuilding Together OKC's application to host the workweek.
It's hoped that neighbors who didn't get an upgrade this week will see the renovations and be inspired to work on their own properties or seek to be a project house, Whitehorn said. Russell said she applied after seeing volunteers in the neighborhood, and two neighbors have asked her for information.
Rebuilding Together OKC is always looking for senior citizens who own their homes and qualify for the help. Executive Director Valerie Aubert said in the 11 years she's been employed there, the program has grown from 50 home renovations a year to nearly 250.
“I think that what we do allows people to be more independent,” Aubert said. “It's really important to me that seniors get to stay in their homes as long as they want to.”