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Rebuilding a Better World- One Home at a Time

Judith Berger | Mar 26, 2012, 9:35 a.m.

Home, where we’ve raised our families, welcomed our friends and became part of a community, can fall into disrepair, making it more of a hazard than haven. For many, it’s a situation that can jeopardize everything we know.

“Homeownership is the key to a community’s stability,” said Lynnea Katz-Petted, executive director of Rebuilding Together Greater Milwaukee, which is why the organization works to keep residents safely in their homes where they can continue to contribute to that stability. The organization provides free, professional-quality home repairs for low-income homeowners who are senior citizens and people with disabilities in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.

Some may say that those who take on huge challenges with little resources are idealists. They’re hopeful in the face of overwhelming odds. They have a vision of a better world, and work tirelessly toward that vision. But Katz-Petted seems to be a hybrid of idealist and realist. “I know I can’t make the poorest person in our community rich, but I can make a difference,” she said.

There are elderly homeowners who live with no hot water, do dishes in bath tubs because of clogged kitchen sinks, live in unsafe homes due to electrical issues, have broken doors and windows or lack grab bars in shower areas.

“Our senior citizens built this community,” she said. “There is no reason they should live in less than comfortable conditions after what they have invested in and worked for.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, Wisconsin ranks second in the nation in deaths resulting from falls in the home. The good news is many falls among older adults are preventable. Reducing falls by implementing safety features in the home has shown to reduce health care cost for seniors and help to retain independence and improve quality of life.

Every day Katz-Petted directs the organization to use its resources to do repairs and make accessibility modifications that keep people safe in their homes. RTGM is in its twelfth year. Last year, the organization repaired or modified 160 homes in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, and is on track to execute repairs on 200 homes this year. It’s current operating budget in $520,000.

Rebuilding Together Greater Milwaukee has five main programs:

  • Emergency repair services for circumstances such as loss of heat or hot water. “We are the only organization in Wisconsin that performs this service for free,” Katz-Petted said.
  • Essential services, which deals with maintenance issues.
  • Accessibility modifications, which deal with quality of life issues, such as putting in ramps, changing outdoor knobs for levered handles and assessing homes and making changes to eliminate falling hazards.
  • Rebuilding Day (this year it’s May 19) is sponsored by area companies, which coordinate the volunteer teams to make home repairs and do maintenance work.
  • Housing Plus, which is an umbrella program that connects people with resources that address other issues.

RTGM has made great strides in the seven years of Katz-Petted’s stewardship, and she has traveled a long way to do important work. Originally from Vancouver Canada, Katz-Petted moved to the states in 1998 to take a job in Washington D.C. writing responses for proposals. She was 26 years old.

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