To see a slideshow of photos from the Barnstable Big Fix, click here.
HYANNIS — "It's like they've come out of heaven," said Albert Boland, as volunteers descended to fix up his home yesterday.
Boland, who came from Dublin, Ireland, and New York City before retiring to Cape Cod 10 years ago, was one of 22 senior citizens to benefit from the Housing Assistance Corporation's " Big Fix " yesterday. About 200 volunteers acted as handymen, repairing and painting the homes of disabled or elderly Barnstable residents as part of a pilot program.
To express his gratitude and excitement for the installation of new safety bars and railings, some painting and yard work, Boland sang "Blue Moon" by Frank Sinatra. This was no small gift — Boland's rich voice has led him to national karaoke competitions.
"The accumulation of small home repairs can become a burden to the senior and disabled members of the community," said Alison L'Heureux, an AmeriCorps staffer who is part of a team working this year with the Housing Assistance Corporation.
Adding a railing to a staircase or a small ramp to a shed may sound minor.
"But we get charged an arm and a leg," said Elaine Dihrberg, who has lived at 359 Strawberry Hill Road for 47 years.
Hip, back and knee problems have finally slowed down the 73-year-old retired nurse to the point where she needs a walker. She lives alone without trouble except that the house needed painting, and the basement and the yard needed cleaning.
All those tasks were being done quickly yesterday, as volunteers bumped into each other painting the small rooms in her house.
"I want to stay here," said Dihrberg, who has worked as a nurse on the Cape for 48 years. "Being a nurse, everyone comes through the hospital, so I know everybody."
The Big Fix was modeled on a Connecticut program that involved more large-scale home repairs, said Virginia Ryan, spokeswoman for HAC.
Since this is the first year of the program, HAC started small with minor repairs offered to Barnstable seniors only, Ryan said. The housing group hopes to expand it to a Capewide program next year, she added.
A lot of the legwork to start the Big Fix came from federal stimulus money that awarded HAC a team of AmeriCorps volunteers for one year. Since October AmeriCorps teams have been organizing the Big Fix along with other projects, Ryan said.
Yesterday, they worked alongside a youth group from the Dennis Union Church Youth Fellowship and a youth group from an associated church in Millis, the United Church of Christ.
Jerry Martin of Oceanside Inc., a Hyannis restoration company, and Scott Horsley, an owner of the Horsley Witten Group, which does environmental consulting, were also among the army of volunteers.
"The company asked if I would do this and I'm glad I did," Martin said. "It's for a good cause."