By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — A group of lovebirds traded roses for paintbrushes over the weekend by volunteering to spruce up a community center at the Jacob Riis Houses as part of a Valentine's-themed program hosted by Habitat for Humanity.
Ten couples came out to the housing complex on Avenue D Saturday to repaint the Riis Houses' youth center in bright pastels, forgoing mainstream traditions of the lovers' holiday in favor of giving back.
"We thought we'd do something useful rather than give money to Hallmark or buy some cheap chocolates," said Tom Faust, 40, who came with his girlfriend, Susan Schultz, 45, from Brooklyn to volunteer. "We wanted to make Valentine's Day a little more meaningful."
Each couple was asked to raise $500 to pay for supplies and other construction costs, with the remaining money going to NYC Habitat for Humanity's affordable home building efforts across the city.
"It's kind of fulfilling," said Peter Kwan, 25, who came with his wife, Rubia, 29, from Long Island to volunteer. "Any gift that you can give to each other is better to give to somebody else."
The couples raised $7,000 in total — most through donations from friends and family — while beautifying a handful of recreational rooms at the NYC Housing Authority property.
The event was organized through Habitat for Humanity's partnership with NYCHA, in which the nonprofit organization helps renovate under-funded community spaces in public housing, said NYC Habitat for Humanity executive director Josh Lockwood, who also got his hands dirty on Saturday.
"It can really make a psychological difference," he said of what a few coats of paint can do to transform the public spaces. "Thousands of people will use these community spaces throughout the year."
One volunteer even traveled from Philadelphia to join his female "friend" at the paint party, and described how she was able to lure him from out of town.
"Lot of persuasion" said a winking Jim Bushey, 50, as he ran a paint roller over a wall.
Another participant was out completing Habitat for Humanity's required "sweat equity" hours, which once fulfilled will allow her to buy in to one of the organization's affordable housing developments in the South Bronx.
"I think they're very friendly people," said Melinda Cummings, from Harlem, of her fellow volunteers. "It's like I've known them my whole life."
The event was how new couple Catherine Roberts and Ralph Pahlmeyer, both 26, spent their very first Valentine's weekend together.
"I like painting, so this if fun," said Roberts, and Upper East Side resident.
For TriBeCa resident Pahlmeyer, the day provided an opportunity for him to serve the downtown community he calls home.
"It just makes you feel so good to give back to the community which you live in," he said.