Rebuilding Together is the largest national volunteer home rehabilitation organization in the United States. The Mohawk Valley branch has been assisting the elderly, physically and mentally disabled, and working poor in the local area since 1997. Rebuilding Together Mohawk Valley (RTMV) mobilizes teams of volunteers to revitalize neighborhoods by repairing homes and renovating nonprofit facilities and schools through the financial support of both national corporate sponsors and local businesses.
Nick Solano ’14 began working with RTMV during his sophomore year through the COOP Service Intern Program. Solano worked with the organization on compliance issues, getting them up to date on EPA and national standards of excellence. The organization was not undertaking many projects at the time, however, “and I saw much more potential,” reports Solano.
The board of directors sent him to the national conference in New Orleans last year, where Solano says he learned more about the national organization and how it operates. That trip inspired him to do more at the local Mohawk Valley branch. He began writing project grants last spring, and has procured almost $20,000 worth of grants since then. “With the increased funding stream, we were able to plan many more projects than a typical year,” says Solano.
Solano was placed on the local board of directors in July 2012, and has been continuing to help grow the organization through community outreach and persistence. “I helped reignite a dying flame, and motivate our all-volunteer board to improve our standing. We have a great potential to provide a necessary service to Mohawk Valley residents, particularly the elderly, disabled, veterans and single parents,” says Solano.
Hamilton students got involved with one of RTMV’s recent projects this fall. A group of students volunteered with RTMV in August as part of the Outreach Adventure freshmen orientation program, and many of those same students enjoyed their experience so much that they came back to volunteer on the project during HAVOC’s Make A Difference Day in September.
The students worked on a house for a community member who was sick with cancer, and as a result was unable to perform many necessary tasks around the house, such as staining the deck, building gates for the porch, and replacing the roof. “He took great pride in his home,” says Solano, “and was devastated to learn that he would be unable to do these projects himself. His dying wish was that someone could help complete these home improvements for his family.”
Hamilton students made this dream a reality by staining the large deck and assisting with construction of a gate. The homeowner insisted on meeting the students involved, and became teary-eyed and emotional as he asked the students questions and expressed his sincere gratitude. All the students involved reported this to be a very moving experience. In the final upcoming part of the project, RTMV will replace the roof, which will give the family a warm home for the winter and reduce their energy bills. The homeowner has since passed away, but did so knowing that RTMV has provided security for his family in the future.
Solano was recently appointed executive director of RTMV this year, and now oversees all operations. His current initiative is developing a student program at Hamilton, where students can get involved in the management side of the organization. Through this partnership with Hamilton, RTMV will receive much-needed assistance and the students will gain career-related skills, such as grant writing and organizational experience in the non-profit sector.
Six Hamilton students are involved in this first year of the program: Grace Fulop ’13, Anne Govern ’15, Ru Jun Han ’14, Shea Nagle ’16, Felipe Ramirez ’15, and Ramon Villalona ’16. Nagle was one of the original students who worked on the homeowner’s project, and was so inspired by her experience that she became RTMV’s new COOP Service Intern. She has already begun working with the organization, providing Solano with much-needed administrative support and serving as the go-between for the Hamilton program and RTMV. “My hope is that we will put in place a solid infrastructure of student leaders who will help us grow for years to come,” says Solano.
Any Hamilton students interested in getting involved may contact Nick Solano at firstname.lastname@example.org.