Ann Coleman and her relentless group of volunteers were just getting going when the coronavirus pandemic hit, delaying the beginning of the Fuller Center for Housing of Utah County.
The Fuller Center in Utah County has a covenant partnership with the national Fuller Center for Housing that was founded 15 years ago by Millard Fuller, the same man that started Habitat for Humanity.
“Our mission is to put people into affordable housing and to help build up houses (already lived in) with refurbishing and renovation,” Coleman said.
Before the Utah County chapter could get off the ground and begin its work, the pandemic locked down Utah residents. However, it hasn’t stopped volunteers from taking on outdoor projects at homes while they wait for better indoor conditions.
One of their first projects was at Gail Paulin’s home in American Fork. Paulin’s mom died 9 years ago, and her father suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She has been his caregiver for many years.
“My yard was a mess,” Paulin said. “There was 20 years of cleaning up to do. They took away junk, painted my porch, fixed the grape arbor, trimmed the roses and trees, and made it look just beautiful.”
Paulin said with what little time she has, there was little time for her to do yard work.
“Every time I would go to the yard, I was so overwhelmed,” Paulin said. “My bathroom sink was leaking, and they fixed that, too.”
Paulin said there were about 60 volunteers in her yard that day. The whole project gave her life a boost.
“Not only was it about making the yard look beautiful, but it was also mentally helpful,” Paulin said. “You get kind of depressed sometimes as a caregiver, and this gave me a new life and keeps me going.”
Paulin said she continues to keep in contact with those that helped and has made some very dear friends.
“I love them all,” she said.
Paulin will most likely see some help in the future when large groups can work inside of the house.
Coleman said the Fuller Center is also working with the Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions organizations.
Foster Grandparents are low income retirees that volunteer in the local schools to help students with reading needs. The Senior Companions are elder adults who help other Senior Citizens with shopping, getting them to doctor’s appointments or just being a friend.
Many folks in these two groups need help, themselves, to make their homes nicer, Coleman said.
“This program is for them, too,” he said. “This helps boost them up a little, too.”
At the age of 79, Spanish Fork resident Clea Aust helps with the Senior Companion program. She has five women she cares for. She takes them shopping, on errands and to the doctors.
When it came to her own yard, that was difficult. Her husband had passed away, and heavy yard work is not easy for her.
“They landscaped with bark and rocks,” Aust said. “My husband was a rock hunter, and they were just sitting in buckets in the back yard.”
Aust said there were beautiful geodes and other rocks that volunteers made into a designed rock bed garden.
About 16 volunteers trimmed her cherry tree that was over hanging her deck, fixed up her shed, and trimmed and cleaned up around the handicap accessible ramp her husband used to use.
“It looks so much better,” Aust said.
Aust also has made friends with the volunteers. She said Coleman calls her once in a while to see how she is doing. Aust’s home will also get some inside sprucing once people can safely come into her home.
Coleman said there are several factors to receiving help from the Fuller Center with the greatest being someone needing a home and the community coming together to support a singular effort.
“We have seen it happen,” Coleman said. “We did a home a few weeks ago in Saratoga Springs for a 91-year-old resident.”
What they did — and what they have been able to do through this summer of social distancing — is repair and paint homes as well as complete heavy landscaping.
Coleman said, for some volunteers, they will return and make the insides beautiful, as well. For someone who has purchased or is living in a deteriorating home, trying to make those improvements themselves can be difficult or nearly impossible.
“We spent the winter getting organized,” Coleman said. “In November, we became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Then, you know what happened in April. We started ‘encouragement’ projects.”
Coleman said her volunteers have been able to spruce up and fix more than 13 Utah County homes since June.
“We now have connections,” Coleman said. “Half of those houses we’ll go in and fix up later.”
With the shortage of available — and particularly affordable — housing in the area, Coleman said they must use a formula to decide who will get help.
“We look at the median income of Utah County and then went to 50% of that,” Coleman said. “For a family of four, that would be $39,800 a year.”
Coleman said they look at the whole picture and see what each person’s needs are. Once, they spent the whole day just splitting logs.
The Fuller Center participated in Thursday’s Day of Caring, completing work in a yard located at a residence in southeast Orem.
Coleman said the group also works to get interest-free loans and the lowest prices they can on all of their supplies.
“The idea of the program is when someone is making a loan payment they are paying for someone else to have a house,” Coleman said. “It’s the idea of paying it forward.”
For information on the Fuller Center of Utah County visit http://fullercenterutahcounty.org.