HOPKINTON — The Neighbors Helping Neighbors group of Charlestown has made it possible for a Hope Valley homeowner to put a new roof on his house. 

When a large spruce tree fell on his roof last February, George Gardiner found himself in a bind. A neighbor removed the fallen tree and did his best to plug the holes it had left behind, but Gardiner wanted to properly repair the 16 holes in the roof before water leaks damaged his house.

The problem was, Gardiner couldn’t afford a new roof, and he had no insurance, which in turn presented another problem. Without insurance, he couldn’t take advantage of Hopkinton's home repair program, which is funded by a federal community development block grant.

“I couldn’t utilize the town’s federal CDBG funding for the home repair program because I had no insurance, but I couldn’t obtain it because the house was in disrepair,” he said. 

Town Council member Sylvia Thompson heard about Gardiner’s plight and stepped in to help.

“When the tree fell on George’s house, I naturally assumed, given his income and age, that he’d be eligible for the home repair program,” she said. “I didn’t think it was a problem. You need homeowner’s insurance. I didn’t know it, but they had dropped him because his house was in disrepair and then the tree fell on it. So, when I went to get insurance for him they wouldn’t insure his house.”

Thompson said she had learned about Neighbors Helping Neighbors when a representative appeared before the Town Council requesting funding. The non-profit group helps low income homeowners with repairs so they can remain in their homes.

Most of the work undertaken by Neighbors Helping Neighbors is performed by volunteers, but Gardiner’s roof was a big job that required the services of professionals. The group hired the DiRoma roofing company of Westerly to do the work, and Hopkinton logging company owner Jason Tefft volunteered to remove seven remaining spruce trees that were threatening to fall on Gardiner’s home.

“Without that organization’s help, my house would have continued to leak inside and cause more water damage,” Gardiner said. “DiRoma is a class act. I am very grateful to all."

Neighbors Helping Neighbors was founded in 2012, but the group’s president, Susan Jaquith, said volunteers had begun working on projects a few years earlier.

“It began as a small group of volunteers at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Charlestown, which had a program, Faith in Action,” she said. “Every spring and fall, they would pick a weekend and that was called a work weekend, where they would get volunteers and they’d pick a couple of houses in South County and do home repairs.”

Members of the group realized that the problem of homeowners struggling to pay for repairs was too great for a couple of work days twice a year, so the group applied for 501(c)3 charitable status and began planning an expansion.

“We consider that church to be our founding partner now,” Jaquith said. “We have since become a secular community  organization, but we always acknowledge that they were the founding partner.”

Other partners include Washington Trust, Habitat for Humanity, the Washington Community Development Corporation, Mumford Services and DiRoma Roofing.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors has no office and no paid staff. Volunteers do most repairs, which are free of charge, but in cases such as big plumbing jobs and Gardiner’s roof, the group pays a company to do the work.

“We have to get a licensed contractor because it’s required,” Jaquith said. “We can’t put our volunteers up there replacing a roof. We don’t have that skill. We start out doing small home repairs, shingling, painting, small electrical fixes, roof repair, wheelchair ramps - people coming home from the hospital, they can’t come home unless there’s a ramp.”

Local contractors occasionally donate their services or do projects at reduced rates.

“We are always looking for contractors that, during their slow period, would be willing to partner with us,” Jaquith said. “We work year round and we understand that if a contractor is busy with their business, they can’t be doing something with us then, but it is always nice to get a donated project.”

Projects, all of which are needed repairs, not cosmetic improvements, are done as time and the number of volunteers allow. Rental homes are not eligible for assistance.

Jaquith said raising funds to keep people in their homes was a challenge because most foundations prefer to assist people who have already lost them.

“We have trouble getting support because we’re preventive,” she said. “There’s money out there for people that lose their homes, but we’re trying to prevent the loss of a home. It’s very hard to do preventive work and that was a big surprise to us."

The need in Southern Rhode Island, Jaquith said, was greater than most people realize.

"We’ll get a request on an application and we go into a home and we end up not with one project but with four or five projects," she said. " People come to you when something’s really bad but then there’s these three other things that are about to fall apart too…People would be surprised how many people live in Rhode Island without hot water and without decent plumbing. It’s just unbelievable.”

More information on Neighbors Helping Neighbors can be found at: https://neighborshelpingneighborsri.org/index.html

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