For this episode of Community Conversations, our host ST Billingsley spoke with Jo-Ellen Benson, a Board Member for the non-profit Project Mend-A-House.
Q: So tell me about what Project Mend-A-House actually does.
A: Project Mend-A-House is an organization that was started about 30 years ago by a woman who saw clients that she was taking care of for her Meals on Wheels volunteer work – Lily Blackwell. And she saw that their homes were in bad condition, that they weren’t living in a healthy, safe manner. So she got some volunteers together and Project Mend-A-House was born.
And from that grassroots type of organizing, we are now a much larger organization and we help all of Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park – focusing on low-income seniors, mostly, people who have a disability, and our veteran community, who qualify through income requirements to receive home repairs as well as safety and other programs that we have available.
Q: And you guys have a fundraiser coming up. Why don’t you tell us a little about that?
A: Yes. Every year, for the last – this will be our 16th year – we have a Taste of the Town. And the Taste of the Town is an event where restaurants throughout Prince William County – 25 to 30 of them – come together for us at the VFW on Minnieville Road, and we have tickets available for people who want to attend – they’re $35. And usually we draw about 250 to 300 people to this event every year to taste Prince William County’s finest food and enjoy a fun time and we also have an awards ceremony.
Q: Now with the type of home repairs that Project Mend-A-House does – so you have everything from…your basic home repairs, you have some for accessibility and safety – what is involved in that part?
A: Well we have our basic home repairs, as you said, where someone has a faucet or minor home repairs – plumbing or things that are handyman type of work that can be done. And then we have a loan closet, which is our durable home medical equipment that’s available through income requirements that are obviously a part of this, so not everyone can qualify, but we have hospital beds, wheelchairs, and assistive devices available for people.
Q: The Freedom Alert program – tell me a little about the Freedom Alert program.
A: The Freedom Alert program is something that is a fairly new program within the last couple of years. It’s funded through the Potomac Health Foundation. And it enables us to give our clients a Freedom Alert device, basically the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” device that we’re all familiar with. But we can give that to our clients for either free or very low cost. A one-time setup fee and then they don’t pay anything for it after that. But it allows them to remain safely within their home.
We actually had a lady that spoke at one of our events who was saved by that device, because she had a surgery, she came home, she got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night – she fell – and thankfully she was wearing that device. And she used it and was able to get 9-1-1 out to help her and it saved her life, because she was bleeding internally.
Q: The Potomac Health Foundation helps a couple of programs with Project Mend-A-House…[like] the Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management program. Tell me a little about that.
A: That is a program that we just started. We have a program called Poised as well through our partnership with GMU (George Mason University). And then we have our Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management program and that allows people with chronic disease to remain in their homes safely if they’ve got pain management, COPD, diabetes, MS – the list goes on and on – depression, anxiety. And we have a program now that allows them to cope and set goals, and really stay healthy overall.
We’re trying to be – our mission has always been to “remain safely in your own home, independently” and we’ve not just through home repairs, because your home can be just as safe as you can make it, but if you’re not healthy as an individual and strong, then you’re not safe in your home alone. So we’re trying to take a holistic approach to what we do.
Q: And Project Mend-A-House also relies on volunteers. What kind of groups, or can people volunteer or groups of people volunteer?
A: We do have many groups that volunteer. We’re always looking for volunteers. We have groups that volunteer through their workplace, houses of worship are a wonderful support group for us, as well as veteran organizations that have come together to support Project Mend-A-House. We recently had a Vietnam veteran who needed a roof repair, a roof replacement basically. And it was something beyond our capability but we were able to get community support, an actual roofer was involved through a construction company that heard about the mission. And this veteran from Vietnam was able to stay in his home.
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