UPTOWN — Formerly homeless families at a low-income apartment building in Uptown are having their kitchens remodeled — for free — by a crew of handymen honoring the 12th anniversary of 9/11.
The Leland House Permanent Housing Program provides 18 families with low-rent, government-subsidized housing on a month-to-month basis at 4656 N. Malden St.
Whether it’s a missing window screen, a door off the hinges or leaky pipes, program director Pegge Taylor said there’s a lot of work to do at Leland House, which is operated by Cornerstone Community Outreach, an Uptown social service agency founded in 1989 by Jesus People USA.
“There’s not always enough money to go around for everything,” Taylor acknowledged, emphasizing that the charity work handymen kicked off Tuesday was a major help.
In 2009, Congress designated Sept. 11 the National Day of Service and Remembrance to encourage volunteerism on the anniversary of 9/11. Jeremiah Preece, owner of Mr. Handyman of Northern Chicago, and other Mr. Handyman franchises across the country are answering that call with good deeds this week.
Preece, an Oak Park resident, and about four of his employees were at Leland House Tuesday to start an expected 32 hours of repair and maintenance work. Their work targeted three apartments singled out by city inspectors for code violations and included installing new cabinets, replacing floor tiles, patching walls and other kitchen work.
Preece is a former minister who had been bringing groups of volunteers to help fix the building for several years before buying a Mr. Handyman franchise last year. He said his personal philosophy about charity, “is that it’s a natural cure to being down about life.”
“It feels really good inside to help people out,” said Preece, who estimated the work would cost him more than $5,500 in materials and labor but would help Leland House avert city fines.
Shamika Johnson, 27, said her kitchen needed some work.
And that was an understatement from the soft-spoken mother of two who has lived at Leland House for four years.
"The sink was kind of falling apart," said Johnson, who has a 3-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter.
She lived in a homeless shelter for a year before coming to Leland House after financial difficulties and a falling-out with a roommate left her homeless.
Johnson was excited Tuesday about the spiffed-up kitchen, which included a new sink, counters and cabinets and a retiled floor. She was also grateful.
Johnson's kitchen cabinets had been in at least 15 years, there was water damage from a leaky a sink and because “it’s an older building,” the kitchen floor wasn’t level, according to James Cleary, one of the workers in her apartment Tuesday afternoon.
He said that if they had tried to take shortcuts, they could have done the equivalent of a “$400 job" instead of more comprehensive repairs.
“We could have just repaired the faucet, resealed the sink just to contain the water and left everything else alone,” said a smiling Cleary, who also has a background in fundraising for nonprofit organizations. He said he enjoyed the act of charity.
His boss, Preece, said he admires the work by Leland House staff to "take people in who come out of a bad situation."
“They’re problem-solving all day long," Preece said. "It’s easier to fix a house than to fix someone’s condition."