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In The News: Nonprofit Seeks Yelm Volunteers to Assist in Rebuilding Homes

A volunteer crew from Rebuilding Together Thurston County poses for a photo on the wheelchair-accessible ramp they built for a Yelm resident.

By Daniel Warn /

Nonprofit Rebuilding Together Thurston County is seeking Yelm-based volunteers to help with its projects to rebuild homes and address critical needs within the houses.

The nonprofit helps low-income homeowners for structures that range from mobile and stick-built homes, to RVs and fifth wheels on projects like everyday repairs, hot water tank issues, flooring, roofing, ADA modifications and more, said Executive Director Cathy Johnson.

“We help homeowners who are specifically 62 and older, disabled, military veterans and families with young children,” Johnson said. “We provide these services at absolutely no cost to the homeowners.”

Rebuilding Together Thurston County was founded in 2003 by community leaders and the Remodeling Council of the Olympia Master Builders Association. It is part of a national organization that was founded in the 1970s in Texas, but is responsible for its own funding.

Since 2003, the nonprofit has received 431 applications. By the end of 2020, the organization helped 233 homeowners, equating to 450 people, Johnson said.

“And 25 of those 233 projects were done in Yelm, so that equates to a percentage of 11%,” she said. “And then, right now, 20% of our projects … that we are working on are in Yelm.”

She said the work can’t be done without a talented group of volunteers, who are either general “handyman” types of people, or more skilled workers. Companies in the county also provide services and supplies to the organization for the completion of its work at a reduced cost.

“We have nobody from Yelm volunteering,” Johnson said, adding the organization is looking to recruit five to 10 volunteers in Yelm. “If we had more Yelm involvement, we would be able to respond much more quickly to provide services in Yelm. … We are also looking for board members. We have no board members from Yelm.”

Board members direct the vision of the organization and help guide the projects it greenlights.

Since the organization is responsible for its own funding sources, Johnson said it holds a regular fundraising breakfast and applies for grants.

“This year, we’ve got our first ever … grant from Salal Credit Union,” she said. “And we received $11,000 to help a female homeowner. We selected a project in Yelm and she’s the wife of a military vet. She and her sister live together. They’re both disabled in the home.”

The nonprofit has installed a new hot water tank, new manufactured home skirting, new windows, and it installed new flooring last week, Johnson said.

“I wasn’t able to get anybody from Yelm to help with that project,” Johnson said.

Another Yelm project saw the installation of a new wheelchair ramp, but Rebuilding Together Thurston County is still looking for someone to seal it and put anti-slip material on it.

“I’ve (spent) four months trying to find somebody to do that final phase of the ramp,” Johnson said. “We are getting into rainy, nasty weather, and I still don’t have it sealed.”

The organization has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide service to rural areas like Yelm, Rainier and Tenino, with the funds being available to use over a span of two years.

A Yelm-based project is slated to be a recipient of some of the USDA’s funds, Johnson said.

“We have a disabled veteran in Yelm who’s wheelchair-bound and we are looking at renovating his bathroom,” she said. “Instead of having to go through multiple steps of getting out of his chair and into the thing that gets him into his bathtub, we can pull out the bathtub and put in a roll-in shower, which would be a tremendous help for him. So that’s the nice part of this grant, because we can look at bigger-ticket items that we wouldn’t be able to do before.”

Rebuilding Together Thurston County does two types of projects.

The first type is its larger “Rebuilding Day” projects that cost $3,000 to $10,000 and require 20 to 40 volunteers to help with things like roofing, landscaping, deck rebuilding, flooring, window installation, painting and more.

“The other projects that we do, and this is a part of our organization that’s really growing, is our critical repairs program, which is also called ‘Save a Healthy Home,’” Johnson said. “These are repairs that we are responding to immediate needs.”

The scope of the critical repairs projects include plumbing and hot water tank issues, deteriorating stair repair, and needs for ADA renovations like wheelchair ramps, grab bars or new toilets.

“We have gone from doing seven Rebuilding Day projects a year and zero critical repairs in 2013, to still about seven Rebuilding Day projects a year and over 40 critical repairs a year,” Johnson said. “So it’s a big growth.”

Sometimes, there’s just one thing that needs to be done with critical repairs, but when the organization gets eyes on the home, there are usually other things that need immediate attention as well.

“The repairs that we do enable people to stay in their homes,” Johnson said. “They know their neighbors. They know their local grocery store. They know their local church. And so it keeps them in their neighborhood and in their community instead of losing their home because they can’t afford to maintain it.”

For more information about volunteering, send an email to or call 360-539-7830.

Originally published in the Nisqually Valley News,275071



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