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Volunteers help Berlin resident stay in her home

Volunteers help Berlin resident stay in her home

reporter photo

BERLIN — A flurry of power tools and paint brushes transformed the home of one elderly resident.

“I could never have done these things,” said Catherine Zabrensky, whose home at 44 Main St. was fixed by dozens of volunteers earlier this month. “It makes my home look more like a home.”

Volunteers removed a shed from her backyard, cleaned up the exterior, repainted the walls inside, replaced the baseboard heaters and trader her bathtub for a walk-in shower.

“To me it was a danger getting in and out of the tub,” she said.

“Taking the cast iron tub out was no small feat, let me tell you,” said Joan Baker, the volunteer coordinator for the work done at Zabrensky’s home. Luckily she was joined by 36 other workers, including members of the Berlin High School robotics team.

“She can’t believe all these people came and did this stuff for free,” Baker said of Zabrensky. “She’s calling us all saints, it makes you cry.”

St. Paul’s Church has been working with the Stamford-based nonprofit HomeFront for around 15 years to fix up homes around town. The church does some fundraising and rallies volunteers from the parish and across town, while HomeFront acquires supplies and vets hundreds of applications every year for home repairs. 

The aim of the program is to do as much work as can be done in one day, with hundreds of volunteers fanning out across the state to work on dozens of projects HomeFront has set up. The nonprofit aims to renovate 60 homes a year, with the bulk of them having been done on May 4.

HomeFront Executive Director Sean O’Brien said the improvements often allow residents to avoid having to leave their home.

“I think it has a benefit for older adults, who have built up their communities and are most comfortable in the home they’ve known for so many years,” he said. “It makes it possible for them to stay in their homes in improved conditions. There are studies that show as long as people are well enough to stay in their homes they have better health outcomes when they stay in a familiar settings.” 

Installing walk-in showers or improving lighting, as was done at Zabrensky’s home, are some of their most common upgrades since it reduces the likelihood of falls, a major hazard for the elderly.

“It’s just all different generations working together. And they all seem happy to do it,” Zabrensky said. “There’s not enough adjectives to say how sweet they are.”
Twitter: @leith_yessian