By Pam Johnson / Zip06.com • 10/25/2021 11:07 AM EST
On SAT. On October 23, a small army of volunteers from St. John Bosco Parish made critical repairs to Coast Guard veteran Keith Brooks’ home in Branford, as part of a wave of support organized by HomeFront Inc., a non-profit organization based in Stamford.
HomeFront takes care of owner verification, equipment, and funding and sponsorship programs, then works with business and faith groups that provide volunteer labor to get the job done in a day. Nonprofit HomeFront had identified the Brooks DeForest Drive home among 23 homes statewide in need of repair assistance this fall. It was also one of four large-scale projects that took place on October 23 in conjunction with the help of The Home Depot Foundation, due to Brooks’ status as a veteran. He served during the Vietnam era.
A 40-year Branford resident and widower, Brooks said he was doing his best to keep his ranch raised near the North Branford border, but in recent years much of his income and attention has had to be focused on providing the necessary care for his late wife. He said he heard about the HomeFront program and contacted it.
“I was going through financial difficulties and I said let me call them to see what they would say about my situation and the state of my house,” he said.
Brooks made their first call to HomeFront five years ago. The association responded immediately, but the waiting list was long.
“We get around 800 inquiries a year statewide,” said HomeFront executive director Sean O’Brien.
Unfortunately, Covid has put a further brake on assistance at Brooks. After 30 years of providing annual workgroup weekends on the first Saturday in May to large-scale projects such as the one required to repair Brooks’ house in Branford, HomeFront had to suspend programs in May 2020 and May 2021. due to the pandemic.
O’Brien came to the Branford House on October 23 with HomeFront Chairman Kenneth Wiegand to thank the St. John Bosco volunteers and to say hello to Brooks.
There are several factors that go into determining whether a homeowner will qualify for HomeFront assistance, O’Brien said.
“They have to meet our income criteria and have enough money to be able to keep their house, but the idea of doing major repairs is daunting,” he said. “We also visit every homeowner who applies, in person, to verify they are eligible and document their needs.”
Brooks said the folks at HomeFront were taken aback by his living conditions when they visited him several years ago. He had ripped off the carpet in the house because of allergens, but couldn’t afford to replace it with new flooring. The house also had aging and inefficient windows that needed to be replaced; another expense that Brooks couldn’t handle.
While help couldn’t come right away, Brooks said HomeFront has kept in touch throughout; and that kept him positive. He also continued to do what he could to maintain his home, including finding a crew willing to paint the exterior for what he could afford and putting inexpensive rugs on the floors.
“I was able to correct some of the problems, but at the same time I was dealing with my wife who was suffering from cancer,” he said.
After two and a half years of care and travel to hospitalizations in New York and Pennsylvania, his late wife, Margaret, wanted to return home, Brooks said. She received palliative care until her death in their home in March 2020.
“So that’s part of me,” Brooks said of his house. “I can’t leave him.”
This is part of the reason why, “I get so moved when I see these guys,” he said, pointing to the task force volunteers on October 23. “They saw my cry. But I smile too.”
O’Brien was also smiling because this particular project was something HomeFront could only afford to help with a great contribution from The Home Depot Foundation which works to support veterans.
“What makes this one a little tricky is that there are so many windows to replace; and it can be very expensive,” O’Brien said. “But since Mr. Brooks is a veteran and we received a grant from The Home Depot Foundation, we were able to sort of pull it all together for him. So it goes beyond what we do for a typical project; and it’s because the Home Depot Foundation is helping us afford all windows – especially now, with the ‘sticker shock’ pandemic and supply issues. “
Ronald Shea, business director for St. John Bosco Parish, which hosted the day’s volunteer hospitality, said he first discovered HomeFront about 15 years ago when he was on the Board of Trustees of the Office of the Catholic Social Justice Department of the Archdiocese of Hartford. Shea brought the program to the attention of the ward, which adopted it.
Shea said the Oct 23 project on DeForest Road is the second to be recently coordinated with Branford Parish working with HomeFront in this area. Another took place about two years ago on Bryan Road, before Covid limited the ability to bring in volunteers to help at home. Others have also taken place over the years.
“On and off we’ve done a number of projects around Branford, or just across the line in North Branford,” Shea said. “The HomeFront folks really do all the control and the organization. They give us a list of projects in town that might be suitable for us and the skills of our parishioners, who are of course volunteers.”
“Churches are our best teams, actually,” Wiegand said. “They have the most qualified people in carpentry, plumbing and electrical.”
Shea attributed the excellent efforts of the Oct. 23 task force to the leadership of parishioner Matt Hally, who was the “house captain” of the day for the project, Shea said. Work began early in the morning, with a parish-connected scout troop arriving around 8 a.m. to quickly clear years of clutter filling a basement storage area. As parts of the house, such as the windows, were removed and replaced, cleaning work continued throughout the day, with the help of parishioners including Jerry Staunton.
“I try to do what I can for the church, and I love to do for people,” said Staunton, who also worked with Hally to help with the Bryan Road project.
As Staunton worked to fill a dumpster outside, volunteers could be seen at work inside the house behind him, including parishioner Rick Burns and volunteer Nicholas Borrero, who got down to work to remove and replace a large picture window overlooking the Brooks front yard from the ground floor.
“I am very touched and I am very grateful,” said Brooks. “When people do something good for you, you have to appreciate it.”
According to information provided by HomeFront, “… the collective compassion of volunteers, product contributors, foundations and other donors has brought HomeFront to the mark of more than 3,000 revitalized homes in the history of the program, offering 50 millions of dollars in services where they need it most. ” As of March 2020, HomeFront has also offered a modified volunteer team approach to home repairs, through its Critical Pro Repair (CPR) initiative, helping 50 families to date. The initiative equips trained HomeFront staff with one or two professional volunteers to respond to crucial exterior repairs, such as wheelchair ramp installations, step and walkway overhauls, and bridge repairs to help struggling families. .
HomeFront is a community program dedicated to keeping low income homeowners in their homes with an improved quality of life through substantial repairs done at no cost to them. More information about HomeFront can be found online at: www.homefrontprogram.org.