Projecting positive change

New name, same mission for project:HOMES
Vivian Lindenau's Henrico ho,me before project:HOMES began
renovating it (at left) and after the renovation was completed.

In the past decade, ElderHomes has touched the lives of more than 10,000 Central Virginia homeowners, including more than 2,000 in Henrico County.

But its name didn't truly reflect what it had become: an organization that provided home repairs and renovations for a variety of citizens in need, including the disabled, low-income and senior citizens.

"People confused us with being an in-home health care service or a senior builder," said Lee Householder, the organization's executive director.

So after working recently with a consulting firm, the organization developed its new, more fitting name: project:HOMES. The new name took effect this month, and organization officials are hopeful that it will help call attention to the services it provides through three primary initiatives:

• its weatherization program, which makes homes more energy efficient by repairing or replacing inefficient heating systems, adding insulation, caulking and weather stripping and installing other components in the homes of those who qualify based on income levels; typically project:HOMES invests an average of $6,500 into each home it addresses through the program.

• its home repair program, which in Henrico addresses such infrastructure needs as leaky roofs, damaged flooring and others for qualified homeowners who are 62 and older. (The county provides funding of nearly $1 million through its Community Development Block Grant money to allow repair work on 30 homes annually.)

• a volunteer effort that provides small home repairs, yard clean-ups and new wheelchair ramps for qualified disabled homeowners of any age.

The organization maintains waiting lists in each category, Householder said; in Henrico, the average wait for home repairs is about a year and for weatherization about six months.

"Our goal is to use all three programs in one house so that we do all the things that need to be done," Householder said.

Though most of the work it has performed in the county since its inception in 1992 has been in the eastern and northern portions, project:HOMES now sees a fairly even spread of need geographically, he said.

Henrico homeowner Vivian Lindenau, who lives in the Lakeside area, found out about the program several years ago when she was perusing the Henrico County website.

"I read about ElderHomes and thought, 'This is pretty cool,'" she recalled. She had particular interest because her home was in need of repairs. The porch was sloping. The house still had aging asbestos shingles. Rear concrete steps presented such a danger that Lindenau had broken her ankle in three places during a fall in 1996.

Lindenau, a retiree and widower who lives with her son, Grant, applied for the program and was approved, but then learned she didn't qualify because she wasn't yet 62. So she waited several years until she turned 62, reapplied and was approved. The work began this January and was completed about 45 days later. Contractors removed all the shingles and replaced them with vinyl siding, demolished her old porch and built a new one, built a small porch in the back yard to replace the troublesome stairs and replaced her oil furnace with a new HVAC unit. In total, she estimated the value of the work and equipment at more than $40,000.

"You just can’t believe how much of a secure feeling I've got now," she said. "My house was the only house in the whole block that wasn't upgraded. I felt bad about it, but I couldn't afford to have anything else done. Now you wouldn't believe how many of my neighbors said that it's just made the neighborhood even better."

Now, Lindenau is making it her mission to share the word about project:HOMES with as many people as possible.

"There are a lot of people here who could use that help."

To alert those with needs to the services it provides, project:HOMES officials regularly reach out to civic associations and home health care, mental health and social services providers, Householder said. But that can be a double-edged sword.

"One of the challenges is that by publicly stating who we are and what we do, it creates more demand for our services," he said.

The organization relies primarily upon government funding, which comprises about 90 percent of its annual budget, Householder said. It also leans on its volunteers, many of whom come as groups from businesses, religious organizations and community associations and some of whom come as individuals.

"We have some retirees who come every week [to help build wheelchair ramps]," Householder said.

One such volunteer, Henrico retiree Barry Yaffe, said the program has been uplifting for him.

"It's a heartwarming experience being able to help other people," said Yaffe, who is part of a volunteer team that calls itself "Just Ramps." The group meets at the project:HOMES offices every other Tuesday to build a ramp, then installs it at a home two days later.

"The homeowners that receive the ramps get their independence back because they are able to get in and out of their home on their own again," Yaffe said.

In addition to its repair and renovation efforts, project:HOMES also builds and sells several affordable homes each year in the region.
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