My name is Jamie Lamb and I am a first year student at Drake University in the college of Arts and Sciences. Through the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC), I am currently an intern with Rebuilding Together Greater Des Moines. Rebuilding Together helps with home repairs for low income, senior citizen homeowners. This includes anything from simple around-the-house tasks, to installing wheelchair ramps or grab bars to make a home more accessible to family members with wheelchairs.
Although Rebuilding Together is a large organization with offices in about 135 cities nationwide, the office that I work in is small. When I began my time with Rebuilding Together, the office included three other women other than myself. This included the executive director and two other part-time workers. Towards the middle of my first semester in the office, one of these ladies left our team, leaving only three of us left. Just recently, this number decreased again when the other part-time worker also left her position. This left the executive director and myself the only two people left in the office.
This organization has a lot going on all the time, this time of year probably being one of the busiest. Between planning single work days and National Rebuilding Day, which is May 5th and 6th, there wasn’t a lot of time for the extra work that needed completion. There was about a week and a half/two week period in which every day spent at the office consisted of running around and trying to do four tasks at one time. Kimberly and I had to manage phone calls, filing, planning and managing all upcoming work days. As the weather gets nicer, more time is spent outside of the office, but in order to do so, it requires a lot of planning.
One day in particular that was more chaotic than expected, was a Friday, which is the longest day I have in the office. This Friday began with the normal checking of messages, but instead of the usual three or four messages, there were fifteen messages that I needed to listen to, take notes on, go through with Kimberly and call back. This task took about an hour to complete if not more. I barely had the chance to finish just listening to the messages when a couple of homeowners walked through the door requesting an application. It was my job to go through the application with them because they had difficulties reading and writing and we wanted to make sure we received all of the information that we need.
Going through our tedious application was a difficult task, however getting the chance to learn about this particular couple is something that I took special interest in. They were very kind, not married, but living together. The woman told me about her eight children, and how one of them had a mental disability. Hearing their story was one of the first times that I was able to experience the type of families we help first-hand. This time, I was not told their story through someone in the office and I did not have to read about their story in one of our newsletters; they told me their story directly. As we filled out the application together, I truly felt as though the work I do in the office makes a difference out in the community, even if my job isn’t always the most exciting in the office.
After the application was complete and all questions were answered, they shook my hands and continuously extended their gratitude. It was easy to see how genuine they were and how much they appreciated our help.
If organizations such as ours didn’t exist. It would be difficult for low-income homeowners- such as the ones I helped that day- to complete the required repairs needed to keep their home safe. Over time, houses break down and wear down and become unsafe for families to live in. Should the homeowner not make enough money to make these repairs, they will leave it alone until the house is no longer safe to live in. Rebuilding Together bridges that gap and provides those services for repairs to be made, and for them to be done well.
The Rebuilding Together Greater Des Moines office is small, but that doesn’t take away from the impact that it has on the Des Moines area. This particular experience, combined with the rest of my time with this organization, has taught me so much about the behind the scenes of a small nonprofit. It’s impossible to spend one hundred percent of the time doing hands on service work- the office is where it all happens. Sometimes it becomes hard to remember that it’s not always going to be the exciting hands on service work. There is a lot of planning and preparation that goes into each project. Which makes the work done in the office just as important as the hands on work that is completed during work days.