Usually, when Charter Communications employees show up at people’s houses, it’s for an installation or repair related to cable television or internet services.
But that wasn’t the case Saturday when approximately 30 Charter employees and their family members volunteered their time to repair and improve the Oxford Village home of Deborah Brown, 58, and Tim, her 34-year-old disabled son.
“It’s so humbling. It really is,” Deborah said. “It’s a blessing. It’s definitely a blessing.”
“This is so exciting,” Tim said. “I think this is wonderful. This is awesome that these people are out here fixing up our house. I appreciate everybody coming out to do all this work.”
The workers completely gutted the bathroom and installed a new tub, sink, toilet and floor; installed a new front door for the house; installed a new garage door and garage entry door; cleaned up the yard and trimmed trees; repaired fencing; built a new front porch; repainted much of the home’s interior; replaced some windows; power-washed the garage’s exterior; installed a garage door opener; and replaced the hot water heater.
“The amount of work that they’ve done in the last couple hours, I couldn’t have done in months,” Deborah said. “I have no words. Everybody’s so wonderful and so giving and so generous. This project is amazing.”
Although it couldn’t be done that day, there are plans to clean and repair the Browns’ above-ground swimming pool, which serves as physical therapy for Tim, who has cerebral palsy. The pool has been out of commission for two years.
“I’m looking forward to swimming in the pool,” Tim said. “I swim like a goldfish.”
All the improvements are part of a program called Charter Our Community.
The philanthropic initiative has a goal of rehabilitating and rebuilding 25,000 unsafe and unhealthy homes located within the Charter Communications service footprint.
Not including the Brown household, Charter Our Community has improved 1,458 homes as of May 4.
The 25,000-home goal represents 10 percent of the 250,000 families in Charter’s service footprint that live in unsafe or unsuitable housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which puts the nationwide total at 2.6 million.
“It’s just our way of giving back,” said Oxford resident Mike Rebtoy, a six-year Charter employee who volunteered his time at the Browns’ home along with his 14-year-old son Dillon.
One of Charter’s partners in this program is Rebuilding Together, a nationwide, nonprofit housing organization that provides low-income homeowners with critical repairs, accessibility modifications and energy-efficient upgrades.
Volunteers and representatives from Charter Our Community and Rebuilding Together’s Oakland County affiliate worked on Deborah and Tim’s Lincoln St. home, where they’ve lived for the past seven years.
Al Kaczkowski, executive director of Rebuilding Together Oakland County, estimated if they had to pay professionals for all the work done to the Browns’ home, it would have cost between $20,000 and $25,000.
“And I’m sure I’m on the low end,” he said.
The Browns were referred to Rebuilding Together Oakland County by someone working in the Oxford Village office.
Though Deborah and Tim work hard every day and are self-sufficient, they simply can’t afford to make the repairs their 1939 home needs and they’re not able to handle the work on their own.
“We do the best we can do, but we’ve just been overwhelmed,” Deborah said.
Deborah has been a school bus driver for the Oxford district since 1987. In the summer, she works at a vegetable stand to earn some extra cash.
In addition to having cerebral palsy, Tim is completely blind. Both are the result of him being born premature.
“He weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces when he was born,” said Deborah, who’s lived in Oxford for more than 30 years. “I had twins. I lost one boy.”
But Tim doesn’t let his disabilities slow him down or stop him from contributing to the household. He mows the lawn, works as part of the housekeeping crew at the Palace of Auburn Hills and even volunteers at Gleaners Food Bank and Goodwill.
“My son is just the most amazing person,” Deborah said. “You’d love to go have a beer and burger with him.”
For Deborah, the most important part of this whole project is her son now has “a safe environment” in which to live because he’s often home alone.
“Knowing that . . . he’s not going to fall through (the bathroom) floor . . . is a major thing,” she said.
Rebtoy is glad he was part of this effort to make life “a little bit easier” for the Browns.
“It just makes you feel really good inside,” he said. “I can’t even imagine doing what they’re doing, going through what they’re going through, trying to survive and do yard work.”
Deborah is extremely grateful to Charter Our Community and Rebuilding Together Oakland County. She is fully prepared to volunteer her time to help them fix up other homes.
“I will be a volunteer for them for the rest of my life,” she said. “Whatever they need, whenever they need it. I’m just going to keep paying it forward.”
Since 1992, Rebuilding Together Oakland County has made repairs to nearly 1,000 homes, according to Kaczkowski.
Last year, the program made minor repairs to 65 homes. It also performs major repairs for an average of 40 to 50 homes annually.
For more information about Rebuilding Together Oakland County, please visit www.rebuildingtogether-oaklandcounty.org.
To learn more about Charter Our Community, visit www.charterourcommunity.com.