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Dave Roepke, Published September 28 2011

Rebuilding Together fixing up homes

FARGO – A little more than a year ago, a couple of north Fargo empty-nesters sat down for a serious talk.

Leah Strand wasn’t sure how her husband, Robert, would react to the notion of her sister, recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and caring for her three children, possibly moving into their three-bedroom, one-bathroom house.

“We pretty much said ‘yes’ at the same time,” she recalled Tuesday.

A few months later, the answer was the same when their daughter and her son needed a place to live after the 4-year-old developed a form of kidney cancer.

“This is your home,” she told her daughter. “You come home.”

The whole clan is bound to find coming home easier after Rebuilding Together is finished there. The local chapter of the nationwide nonprofit touted a project at the Strand residence as their first major endeavor, one of 14 expected to be done before snowfall.

Rebuilding Together has a focus similar to Habitat for Humanity, the charity that builds homes for low-income families, with a key distinction – fixing houses instead of building them.

In a Tuesday news conference, Tom Newberger, the board president of the local chapter formed in January, said staying in their homes can give a sense of pride and self-satisfaction to the people the program hopes to help, such as seniors, veterans and the poor.

Russ Richards, Rebuilding Together’s executive director, said a relatively minor project, often involving accessibility issues, can often make remaining in a house feasible. In the first round of projects, one man needed a shower installed. An arthritic woman could stay put thanks to paddles instead of knobs on her sink faucets, Richards said.

With help from corporate donations and two $20,000 grants from the city of Fargo and the Otto Bremer Foundation, Richards said the charity will have a 2011 budget somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000, with hopes of expanding before the 2012 building season.

Many individual projects have their own sponsors. For the work at the Strand house – a bedroom, a finished bathroom and a pantry, all in the basement – $9,000 was given by State Bank & Trust employees who used their “Pay It Forward” contributions and pitched in with labor.

It’s a job Strand said her family couldn’t have paid for on their own, and one that’s going to prompt yet another family meeting to sort out the arrangements.

“They’re all kind of going, ‘It’s my room,’ ” Strand said of the children.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535