Harpswell home-repair volunteers seek more local fixes

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HARPSWELL — When Bob Bauman and his Home Repairs and Resources Team started fixing local homes in September 2016, the goal was to complete work on 25 homes in a year.

The group came close.

“We actually did 24,” Bauman said. “We feel very good about having done 24 (in that time). We’re now working on number 31, and we’ve only got one more ahead of us in the queue.”

The repair team is a committee of Harpswell Aging at Home, and is also partnered with Habitat for Humanity/7 Rivers Maine.

The group completes free home repairs for qualifying seniors in Harpswell, and also arranges for health-care workers to spend time with the homeowners and gauge what other services may be needed.

Homeowners must be over the age of 60 and fall under 80 percent of the Cumberland County area median income. For a household of one, a qualifying income is $40,600 or less annually. Bauman said the majority of people his team helps have gross annual income “in the neighborhood” of between $10,000 and $20,000.

To apply, homeowners should contact Linda Strickland at the Harpswell Town Office, which determines eligibility. 

In 2015, a demographic study conducted by Harpswell Aging at Home showed 600 people in town met requirements to receive services from the repair team, nearly 20 times the number of homes that have been worked on thus far.

Bauman said he thinks a culture of independence and the stigma around receiving outside help, especially as an older person, may be part of the reason for the subdued response.

“Harpswell is full of wonderful, wonderful older people who are so proud, so independent and don’t want to ask for help,” he said. “They never had to in the past; there’s some sort of stigma of having to ask for charity.”

If he receives an inkling of hesitation from applicants, Bauman said, he often tries to convince people of the value of services.

“I try really hard when I make that initial call, if I get any sense of that, to convince them that this is not charity,” Bauman said. “For years you have paid into your community; this is your community giving back to you.”

Applicants typically list fewer than half a dozen fixes they need, but volunteers sometimes end up repairing between 30 and 40, Bauman said. 

In August, the repair team program received a substantial boost in outside funding. Cumberland County awarded it a Community Development Block Grant, which allowed for $1,500 in repairs on up to 25 homes, and $15,000 in additional funding for homes requiring more costly work.

Bauman said the grant was a “huge” development. Previously, Habitat for Humanity funded all of the team’s work through donations and grants.

“What that allowed Habitat to do was to use their funding from donations to form other teams, so they’re working in Georgetown, Damariscotta and Wiscasset to form (them) with other programs that didn’t exist before for home repairs,” he said. 

The local branch of Habitat for Humanity’s goal, Bauman said, is to ultimately have a home-repair team in all 31 of the towns it services throughout Maine. 

Bauman’s team, which has 19 volunteer members, does everything from installing wheelchair ramps to replacing rotted wood on decks or porches. A full list of services is available on the Harpswell Aging at Home website. 

The team repairs homes every Thursday, and while Bauman said he has enough volunteers to get the job done right now, he is always open to more. 

He said the team works by strict standards, and the decision regarding what to modify in a home is always made by the homeowner. He said he also reassures those who are worried about privacy that the work is handled confidentially.

Having only one home lined up for repairs doesn’t faze Bauman, since the team has funding for dozens more. He said he knows there are people in Harpswell who need the assistance.

“There are years of work ahead of us,” Bauman said. “The key is getting to the people that need the work and motivating them to ask for help.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Two volunteers for the Harpswell Home Repairs and Resources Team repair a roof in Harpswell last year.

Bob Bauman, chairman of the Harpswell Home Repairs and Resources Team, and his wife, Hollie Van Der Zee, chairwoman of the Harpswell Aging at Home Communications Team.