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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

“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.

Historic area

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.”