Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Big Fix's Small Home Improvements Make Major Difference in Yarmouth

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Oct 09, 2014 @ 01:07 PM
DSC 5617 resized 600Harry Petersen at his home in South Yarmouth.

“Without their help I don’t know if I could do this,” Harry Petersen said as eight total strangers landscaped his yard, painted trim on his house and tiled his bathroom shower on a seasonably warm Saturday morning in mid-September.

These days the affable 72-year-old South Yarmouth resident, who had worked in automobile and truck sales in Connecticut, does not move around like he once used to. Seated on a strolling walker with one hand clutching a cane, Petersen admitted that he suffers from spinal stenosis.

To the layman that means, “I have constant pain in my back all the time,” he said. “I can’t do this type of work anymore.”

Petersen, who has called Cape Cod home for the past 21 years, was not unlike the 10 other Yarmouth residents who were the recipients of this year’s Big Fix. All elderly, most can no longer do the minor tasks that go into owning a home.

As HAC CEO Frederic (Rick) B. Presbrey noted earlier in the day during a welcoming reception at the Mattacheese Middle School, people like Petersen were initially who the nonprofit was trying to help when it started the Big Fix in 2010. “The original idea for this came out of our knowledge of the senior community on Cape Cod,” he told the 223 volunteers from throughout Cape Cod who showed up for the day of service. “We have a lot of seniors who live in their homes. They’re getting older and they don’t have the capacity to get a lot of little things done.”

So that first year HAC took the Big Fix to Barnstable where it helped make minor improvements to 22 homes. It has since been to Sandwich, Dennis and Mashpee before coming to Yarmouth this year. And while seniors were the initial focus HAC has added veterans and the disabled to the list of people it helps through the program.

DSC 5643 resized 600Donald and Elaine Lang, joined by their dog Mango, stand outside their South Yarmouth home with their Big Fix team.

These are people like World War II veteran Donald Lang and his wife Elaine of South Yarmouth, who saw the trim on their home and picket fence painted and their flower beds mulched. The work could not have come at a better time for the couple who have been struck by hardship this year, having lost a daughter, Donna, in July, and their cat, Orbit, shortly thereafter.

“We were just so sad this summer and then this happened,” said 87-year-old Elaine, who has been married to her husband for 68 years.

The couple’s wedding anniversary was in August, but Elaine said, “we were too sad to celebrate because our daughter died in July.”

So the Big Fix brought them more than just home repairs. It brought them happiness.

“It isn’t easy getting old,” said 90-year-old Phyllis Van Lare, who watched volunteers remove brush from her yard. To show her thanks she baked them chocolate chip and molasses cookies.

DSC 5625 resized 600Phyllis Van Lare was so appreciative of the help she baked chocolate chip and molasses cookies for volunteers.

Even without the sweet treats, volunteers would have been more than willing to do the work. Most, like twins Grace and Olivia Kilroy, sophomores at Barnstable High School, did so altruistically; they were volunteering in memory of their grandmother Elizabeth Warren, a former HAC board member and longtime supporter of the agency, who passed away in May.

There were HAC board members like Rana Murphy, HAC employees like Nancy Davison, teams from AmeriCorps Cape Cod and families like the O’Brien’s of Bourne, who all showed up out of the goodness of their hearts.

“This is a great event because you are able to help people,” said Lawrence O’Brien, as he was surrounded by his children Savannah, 16, Benjamin, 15, and Jackson, 14.

And that may be the most important part of the Big Fix which was summed up by Yarmouth Recreation Director Patricia Armstrong in addressing the volunteers. “Remember that someday this could be you that needs a helping hand,” she said. “And remember how it felt to be able to give to someone in need and relish that thought. And enjoy what you’re doing because there aren’t a lot of people fulfilling their Saturday morning the way you are.”

Next year the Big Fix will take place on Saturday, September 12 in the town of Bourne. Click here for more information.