'Warmer, safer, drier'


Jim Diel, resource coordinator, Rebuilding Together

November 16, 2008|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Salary: $11,500

Age: 25

Time on the job: Two months

How he got started: While he was attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as a sociology major with a minor in environmental studies, Diel and his family lost their home to foreclosure. He needed to find a way to make money for college, but he also wanted to work on some of the social issues he was learning about in college.

He decided to join an AmeriCorps program that took him to Washington state as a carpenter building and repairing houses for low-income homeowners. When he finished his 11 months of service, he decided to serve again. This time, he opted for the East Coast and found a position in Baltimore with Rebuilding Together, a national nonprofit organization that helps low-income homeowners renovate and repair their homes.

Typical day: Diel is responsible for recruiting skilled tradespeople who can help make repairs and modifications on houses for low-income homeowners who are elderly or disabled, or families with children. Rebuilding Together Baltimore is working in the neighborhoods of Turners Station and Park Circle, targeting about 25 houses in each neighborhood. The repairs are made April 25 during the organization's annual Rebuilding Day.

Diel often attends trade shows, mails information about the organization and distributes brochures to local hardware and supply stores. His responsibilities include coordinating and conducting home inspections to ensure that applications submitted are accurate and other repairs are not needed. This includes estimating the materials, time and prep work that will be needed to complete the job.

Diel is also assisting with the launch of a year-round repair program by recruiting skilled tradespeople. Expected to start this spring, the program will include a directory of skilled tradespeople who can be called on a few times a year to make repairs at times other than the Rebuilding Day and in locations outside the two targeted neighborhoods, which change every two years.

"One of the hardest things is to turn someone down who is reaching out for help," Diel says.

He also is in charge of coordinating the start of the organization's new energy-efficiency program, which looks at ways to reduce energy costs for homeowners in need.

Grant money: In addition to Diel's pay, at the end of his 11 months of service he'll receive $4,725 toward college tuition or school loans.

The good: "It's a really good feeling to know every day that my service is helping to make low-income homeowners warmer, safer and drier," Diel said. He adds that because they are able to repair so many houses in a concentrated location, they have an impact on entire communities.

The bad: "There are so many homeowners that need critical home repairs, but not enough services to meet those needs."

Philosophy: Diel believes that you can view a problem as too big and do nothing, or you can see it as a challenge that makes you rise up and take action. "Everyone deserves safe and decent housing. I don't see it as being too big of a problem."

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