A Muse of Dogs by Allan R.

Someone famous, whose name presently escapes me, said that the average dog is nicer than the average human.  

I would have to agree.

In most of the homes we visit as CHRPA volunteers, the owners have at least one dog—some several. These dogs come in as wide a variety of sizes, styles and personalities as do the owners themselves. Some live in pristine homes, some in homes that are candidly in rough shape inside and out.

Sometimes with our clients, it is difficult not to engage in an internal monologue that questions, “I wonder what it’s like to live like this?”  For those with pets, the question goes further:  One wonders, if the homeowners are experiencing so much struggle with basic needs, how and why do they have a pet? Rationally, it seems someone with scant means would not want to assume the burden of more bellies to fill, more medical problems to worry about, or another being to be responsible for.

On reflection though, it is likely that the owners’ often lonely existence is exactly why they have canine companions. Whatever the owners’ financial, social or emotional state, a dog brings to their home and to their life more than just companionship. A dog brings a non-judgmental friend who does not know or care about the chaos in which its owners live. The dog loves its owners regardless of whatever brought or keeps its owners and its home in a state of disrepair. For humans, such lack of judgment is almost impossible.

What we do as CHRPA volunteers falls generally under the broad heading of “good deeds”  in Hebrew, a simplistic translation of “mitzvot”. Dogs, in these homes, are living mitzvot.  These dogs serve a “higher purpose” in slathering their special loyalty and love on all of us regardless of triumph or failure, effort or sloth, king or pauper. A dog in the home of most of us is an added joy, an enrichment, even in my case, a significant part of my life’s history. In the homes of some of our CHRPA clients, the dog is all of that, but also a life raft of emotional security in a tumultuous sea, an anchor of loyalty, and a port of constancy.

Mitzvot indeed.

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A Door For All Seasons by Richard E.

Richard E.

When we approached the Melissa’s home, we could see a six inch gap at the bottom of the front door. She told us that it had been that way for two years, and that the cold air blew in all winter and the hot air blew in all summer. She was distressed and maybe a little upset when we met her, but we knew that her anger was not directed at us.

We repaired the door, and added a jamb and threshold. We repaired the strike and put weatherstripping all the way around. When we were done, the door was tight and trim all the way around. Certainly, the days of the wind blowing through it were over.

Melissa saw our finished work, and with tears in her eyes, she thanked us many times over.

Charity to Partnership by Dan R.

I cringed when I was handed the “major roof repair” job this morning. I just don’t like roofing: the asphalt and fiberglass dust, hoisting hundreds of pounds of shingles up a ladder, trying to align sheets of plywood while straddling rafters… But I don’t work at CHRPA because I love grit in my teeth and sweat in my eyes. I work at CHRPA because it is a daily reminder of my own fortune, of how quickly fortunes can change, and of how people, even in the hardest times, can still be gracious and generous.

Our elderly client, Silvia, had been an administrative assistant. Her son, Daniel, lives next door and used to work as a pipe fitter. Both were laid off five years ago. Daniel has held some temporary jobs and Silvia has enrolled in a job training program, but when her roof started leaking they were short on options. Daniel tried to patch the trouble spots, to no avail. Silvia needs an extensive repair. But the roof, once we tear into it, is worse that I had feared. Never mind needing five sheets of plywood—we need thirteen. Never mind stuffing the old roofing into the back of our van—we need a dump truck. In truth, the whole roof really needs to be replaced, a costly job that will strain our budget and, more importantly, limit how much we can provide to other homeowners.

And then Daniel drops a surprise. “I’ve been thinking,” he says, “that if you can pay for the new plywood, I can get some discounted materials from the place I used to work. Then you wouldn’t have to buy shingles, right?” I prod a bit, knowing that their money is tight and roof work is hard, but he’s committed. His brother will help chip in. He needs some help getting started, but he’d like to do the work.

In two sentences, Daniel has not just turned my day around, he’s turned the project from charity to partnership. Between our know-how, his labor, and his brother’s financial help, Silvia will have a safe and dry house this summer. And to think I was anxious about this job.

 

Floor Repair and Life Saving by Dan R.

“You guys saved my life,” is not a phrase I hear every day. Sure, we repair plenty of gas leaks and electrical hazards, fix the cooling in the summer and replace the broken, drafty windows in the winter. But I rarely hear the words “saved my life” as they relate to a new bathroom floor.

Luann lives in a camper trailer that should have been condemned 20 years ago. The wiring is hopelessly outdated, none of the original appliances work anymore, the doors don’t latch, and the roof…well, I don’t even know what’s holding the roof together. But Luann’s biggest concern is her floor. From one end of the camper to the other, the floor is pocked with holes big enough for her pit bull to fall through. It is tiled with plywood scraps of every conceivable thickness, some sturdy enough to walk on, others apparently serving as a warning of where not to step. My first reaction is incredulity. Do we really want to fix this floor? The repair costs alone are probably higher than the value of the camper. Is the repair worth it?

Our first day is difficult and we only have time to reinforce and replace the bathroom floor. The next morning when we return, though, Luann is crying. “You don’t know what this means to me,” she says. “Last night I just walked in and out of the bathroom, in and out, and in and out. I can’t tell you what a relief it is not to worry about my foot going through the floor. You guys saved my life.” As I reflect, I realize I don’t understand the anxiety of walking around your own home, wondering which footstep will plunge you down through the floor. Or needing to visit your neighbors just to avoid being in your house. Or knowing that you can’t afford to fix your floor any more than you can afford a new home, and that leaving would make you homeless. Did we really “save Luann’s life?” Probably not. Was the repair worth it? Absolutely.