CINCINNATI - West Chester resident Cindy Stoughton's voice wells with emotion when she speaks of the non-profit organization which came to her rescue less than a year ago.
Following a series of unfortunate events, both Stoughton and her husband found themselves out of work with mounting repair bills in their aging home.
To earn an income, Stoughton's husband accepted a coaching job in Toledo, leaving her to address a leaking waterline and thousands of dollars in overdue bills. Shortly after her husband's departure, the water company cut off service all together.
Desperate, Stoughton contacted charitable organizations in search of help, but had no luck. Just when she felt all hope was lost, she said, she found People Working Cooperatively (PWC).
"Once I got ahold of them and explained my situation, they said, we're going help you. And if it's not happened to you, you cannot imagine," Stoughton said, fighting back tears. "I was so relieved. They couldn't tell me when they'd be out because there were people with greater needs, but I didn't care if it was going to be another week or another month. I knew I was going to get help."
The "whole house" approach
Serving the Tri-state for more than 38 years, the non-profit PWC provides home repairs, energy conservation and mobility modification to low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners.
Findings from a recent study show the organization goes far beyond nuts and bolts. The international research group Cadmus of Portland, Ore. recently released the first results of a three year study, showing the PWC helps substantially strengthen the community through its multi-faceted approach.
According to PWC president Jock Pitts, the study validates beliefs that PWC's "whole house strategy" works. This entails a broad assessment of needs including:
In order to qualify for assistance, an applicant must meet income guidelines and own their own home.
Also among the Cadmus study findings:
A hand up, not a handout
Pitts said he knew the organization added value to the community, but found exact numbers and impact were difficult to measure prior to the study.
"In my experience, people don't like to take charity. They'd rather carry their own load if they can, but sometimes it gets too big," Pitts explained. "So what we do is kind of reduce the load a little bit and then they step up. And that's PWC's ethic anyway, we believe in a hand up, not a hand out."
Stoughton sees herself as living proof a hand up works. After extensive repairs to her home's waterline, PWC conducted a home inspection only to find Stoughton's furnace emitting significant amounts of carbon monoxide each time it started.
Technicians replaced the furnace with a new, energy efficient model at no cost. Once PWC addressed all the repairs, the bills became manageable. Stoughton admitted she never expected to be in this situation, and now that both she and her husband are working, she sees things turning around for them. Stoughton still marvels at the generosity and kindness of the organization.
"From the receptionist, to the person who took our application, to the site manager, to the guys who did the work.... These people are wonderful," she says. "I'm just so grateful."
Doing the work
Plumber Michael Jones of Colerain Township often hears words of gratitude. As a contractor for PWC since 1995, Jones works on major repairs to sewage and waterlines. He spent more than two weeks in November repairing the line running to Stoughton's home.
He said PWC provides a humane and valuable service to the community by decreasing bills and making homes more economical to maintain. Some clients he services have gone without water for long periods he said, ranging from several weeks to a year. He explained in many cases, elderly or disabled clients don't know where to turn, so they slip through the cracks.
Jones said when his clients finally see water trickle out of their faucets after going without for a long time, he receives more than his shares of hugs and thanks.
"I'm sure they would pay me if they could afford it," he said. "I could go to a regular customer's house and make more money, but the PWC people just appreciate the service - I've not run into anybody that's not appreciative of it."
PWC leaders say it is the only organization of its kind in the country. Pitts hopes after other cities see results of the Cadmus study, they too will embrace the model. The organization combines 125 full-time construction professionals with more than 7,000 volunteers each year to complete both major and minor repairs to clients' homes. Pitts said people around the country, including many church and youth groups, approach PWC looking for collaborative volunteer projects.
Besides home repairs, Pitts said PWC weatherization inspections identify potentially deadly carbon monoxide leaks. Duke Energy partners with the organization to help fund energy-related inspections and repairs. Pitts said besides the philanthropic aspect, Duke recognizes when customers' bills become more affordable, they're far more likely to keep up with payments.
PWC's funding comes from private donations and the government. Pitts worries recent cuts to federal funding will have a deep impact on the organization's ability to serve clients in the future. He hopes people keep PWC's work in mind when it comes to both volunteering and making donations.
How PWC works
"You can powerfully touch lives and improve communities for a reasonable amount of money and everybody can help," Pitts said. "There's (sic) benefits for every person in our community when you can save a house and allow a person to age in place."
Seventy-four-year-old, Elsmere, Ky. resident Clairene Hampton knows the benefits of PWC. She contacted the organization for help with her home, despite her tendency to be skeptical of something that seems "too good to be true."
Besides replacing windows which had been painted shut for more than 35 years, PWC updated Hampton's plumbing and helped make her bathroom more accessible. She said before going out one afternoon, she showed the site manager a couple of rotted boards on her deck. When she got home her entire deck was missing. Deeming the structure unsafe, she said, PWC builders and a swarm of "delightful" young people decided to rebuild her entire deck complete with electricity and stair lights.
She said every time she opens her windows to get fresh air or steps on her deck, she thinks of PWC.
"They have helped me so much. I don't have the words to express how grateful I am," Hampton said. "And let's face it, the world is in kind of a mess, but there are wonderful people out there and I've had the privilege of meeting those people."
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