‘I’m hoping it will have a life of its own’:Village Neighbors restarts Small Repairs Program

  • The handrail on the right was installed by members of Village Neighbors’ Small Repairs Program. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Some of these boards were installed by members of Village Neighbors’ Small Repairs Program. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • This grab bar was installed by members of Village Neighbors’ Small Repairs Program. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The handrail on the left was installed by members of Village Neighbors’ Small Repairs Program. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Village Neighbors volunteer Bert Fernandez cleaning out a house’s gutters as part of VN’s Small Repairs Program. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Village Neighbors volunteer Russ Greco checking on a house’s roof leak as part of VN’s Small Repairs Program. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/10/2021 5:00:13 AM

If you want an in-law suite built or a swimming pool installed, don’t bother calling Village Neighbors. Those types of projects require permits and, sometimes, contractors. But if all you need is a sturdy handrail or new batteries in a smoke alarm, the nonprofit that helps senior citizens in Wendell, New Salem, Leverett and Shutesbury has a five-person team with the right tools for the job.

Village Neighbors’ Small Repairs Program is a new initiative that started about a year ago and blossomed thanks to a roughly $2,000 grant in the early fall. Bert Fernandez, Russ Greco, Glenn Stockton, Paul Lyons and Sam Rogers volunteer for small home repairs and services such as moving furniture, organizing household items, stacking wood, delivering groceries, preparing meals, tending to pets and plants, and other tasks that can be completed in an hour or two.

“You’re not going to repair a roof — but you might repair a shingle,” said Nancy Spittle, VN’s member coordinator. The program restarted April 1 after being on hiatus for a few months due to surges COVID-19 outbreaks and it being wintertime. Roughly 30 projects were completed before the break.

“It was a great success,” Spittle said. “The grant allowed us to have a pot of money to use for materials.”

VN members are 60 or older, as are most of the volunteers.

Three years ago, Fernandez, a 70-year-old retired pediatrician, started volunteering to drive VN members to medical appointments. A little more than a year ago, he was recruited for the small repairs program. He has always had an interest in woodworking and, having grown up in Puerto Rico as one of nine children, he was raised learning how to handle house projects himself.

“I like problem-solving,” he said.

Fernandez, who lives in Shutesbury, said in the fall he helped hang curtains, replaced a mailbox, installed battery-operated smoke alarms, replaced door locks, and cleaned and repaired some gutters. He and Greco built some stairs with a safety guard and installed some grab bars at a separate house.

“I find that when you are doing something for somebody else, that brings you the most rewarding feeling,” Fernandez said. “I don’t want to sit around all day.”

Greco, who has been retired about five years, said he continues the service work he was doing while living in New Orleans, where he worked for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Operation Helping Hands in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He helped with disaster relief and now splits his time between the Big Easy and the North Quabbin.

“I had a mid-life crisis of service work,” he said. “I’m still capable of doing some work out in the field and I find it healthy and invigorating.”

Greco, 71, thinks team members can tackle about 30 more projects this spring. He said VN members are typically asked to donate money toward materials, and most donate more than the service would have normally cost because they are so grateful for the help.

“I’m hoping it will have a life of its own,” Greco said about the program.

Stockton worked as a carpenter 40 years ago and built his own house. He now just does projects for himself and for VN members, often assembling handrails and fixing deck boards and leaky faucets.

“It’s a skill that I have and I like the work that the organization (does) and I just wanted to continue the idea of allowing people to age in place,” he said.

Stockton, 60, explained he started volunteering with VN about two years ago, driving members to grocery stores and doctor’s appointments for a year before the small repairs program launched.

“It’s pretty rewarding,” he said. “The people are very appreciative.”

Village Neighbors’ services are available to members only. Information about membership can be found at bit.ly/3rvW7nm.

People interested in volunteering can contact Village Neighbors at 413-345-6894 or volunteers@villageneighbors.org. Information on how to become a volunteer is available at bit.ly/2Pg5FWp.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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