Skilled tradesmen and unskilled volunteers with the nonprofit Rebuilding Together North Suburban Chicago working to build a new porch for a home. Credit: Rebuilding Together NSC submitted photo

At the May 5 meeting of Evanston’s reparations committee, former Council Member Robin Rue Simmons announced that the city has begun dispersing the $25,000 housing grants to the 16 beneficiaries of the restorative housing program.

Now, some of those who chose to use their money for home repairs will be able to get work done from a local nonprofit, Rebuilding Together North Suburban Chicago, without touching the grant.

“We are thrilled to have received a grant for $20,000 from the Evanston Community Foundation…to extend the reach of the Evanston local reparations,” said Sharon Riley, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together North Suburban Chicago.

Riley said they expect the grant to help between two and five of the inaugural reparations recipients who chose to use their funds for home improvement.

The group will also donate the time of unskilled volunteers to do more basic work like disposing of unwanted possessions, installing new storm doors, minor repairs and more.

Nonprofit has deep ties in area

Rebuilding Together is a national organization that provides free home repairs to people in need. Rebuilding Together NSC is the local chapter, one of about 130 affiliate chapters across the country. The North Suburban Chicago chapter serves 11 communities in the area from Evanston to the Wisconsin border, east of 1-94.

Jim Riley is a founding member of the NSC chapter, and he’s also Sharon Riley’s husband. Jim Riley began volunteering with a different Chicago affiliate chapter before the current one was established.

He says he and others wanted to found a local chapter to expand the area they could reach “providing home repairs to needy families, primarily senior citizens, but also veterans and other folks throughout that region.”

The organization relies on private donations, but Sharon Riley says they have a powerful network of dedicated individuals made up of faith-based organizations, civic organizations, two townships, businesses, banks and other nonprofit organizations.

The nonprofit uses the donations to pay skilled tradespeople and contractors to perform advanced repairs for community members, free of charge. Just last year, their skilled workers replaced six roofs and gutter systems; provided four new furnaces, two hot water heaters, one central air conditioning system, and conducted major roof repairs, along with other extensive plumbing and carpentry repairs.

Rebuilding NSC has a second program of unskilled volunteer teams who provide repairs like disposing of unwanted possessions, reorganizing building shelves, installing new storm doors, washing windows, painting and conducting minor repairs.

“We evaluate our applications based on relative need among our applicants, we try to evaluate where our resources can have the greatest impact,” Sharon Riley said.

Rebuilding Together board member Gregg Walla (left) and Evanston City Council Member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, together on Rebuilding Day April 30, the culmination of the home repair program that occurs annually on the last Saturday in April. Credit: Rebuilding Together NSC submitted photo

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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