Sawdust and sweat were in the air Tuesday as the nonproft Rebuilding Together Long Island and volunteers from the Long Island Board of Realtors built a wheelchair ramp at a Hempstead home.
For 10 years, The Interfaith Nutrition Network has run a Thorne Avenue home for up to seven veterans at a time as they recover from drug-related problems. But the wheelchair ramp, located in the back, was getting battle-scarred, worn and outdated.
"With the advent of these motor scooters as opposed to wheelchairs, it was hard for veterans to turn around," said Christian Aguilera, The INN's director of facilities. "You'd see the marks where the motor scooters would bump into the railings."
Also, the final leg of the ramp ended less than two feet from the grass, forcing veterans in wheelchairs to maneuver on bumpy soil to get onto the paved area.
About 24 volunteers laid out the ramps, extended the back porch so that seven people could relax there comfortably and replaced the crumbling brick steps. Railings for the ramp are expected to be put up Wednesday.
There was a lot of nailing and some de-nailing, along with double checking of instructions and measurements by LIBOR volunteers, who wore blue T-shirts as part of the trade group's "We're More Than Realtors" campaign.
When asked if he trusted the real estate agent's handiwork, Rebuilding Together co-founder Joe Botkin, 81, immediately replied without a trace of hard feelings in his voice. "No," he said. "That's why they're paired with one of our own people."
It was the 143rd ramp for Rebuilding Together, a group of volunteers who have retired from various jobs and who joked about avoiding such labor at their own homes. Based in North Massapequa, the nonprofit had gotten a call recently from LIBOR asking if it had any jobs that needed free help. That led to a call to The INN, asking if they needed anything fixed, and $1,800 in lumber and supplies were donated to the veterans' home.
"We are helping veterans to be able to go in and out and give them the freedom to get back into life here," said Kathy Engel, LIBOR president and agent at Re/Max Shores in Oceanside.
LIBOR this year has donated $5,000 to Rebuilding Together so it can buy materials and pay for skilled labor to repair the homes of seniors and low-income families. The real estate trade group has teamed up with the nonprofit on several projects over the years.
For businesses and trade organizations, getting into some kind of charitable cause can shape the company's image, said another volunteer Paul Wernersbach, broker owner of Sunset Realty in Brightwaters.
"It's as important as being in business," Wernersbach said. "We have to let the public know we're not just there for the quick buck and it's not even a quick buck anymore.
"It's important to stay in the community. A lot of people get involved for the networking aspect of it, that eventually some business will come back to them. But if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, you have some personal satisfaction and a lot of good memories, the warm and fuzzy feelings you helped to create."
For Rebuilding Together, the past year has been tough on the donation and work fronts, said Botkin, of Williston Park, a retired, New York City principal: "The donations have dwindled in number and size" by about 50 percent.
But money has not been the biggest problem. It's finding the people who need help on their homes, Botkin said: "We don't have enough clients."
Rebuilding Together is at 516-541-7322 and rebuildingtogetherlongisland.org.