La PORTE — While many would choose to sleep in after a long workweek or to rev-up their lawn mowers to cut the grass before the sweltering heat set in on a warm, sunny weekend morning like May 18, La Porte High School instructor Jeremy Ruff decided to get up and get to work.
Joined by nearly a dozen others — including one of his students, Nick Guibert — the industrial technology and head Slicers football coach stood outside a residence on Lawrence Street, calling out orders and directing traffic as if he were in his classroom or standing on the sidelines of Kiwanis Field.
The words on the bright yellow shirt he was wearing, "Rebuilding Together," summed up the reason he and his team of volunteer plumbers, electricians and handymen (and women) stopped by the property that morning — to help a La Porte homeowner with some much-needed maintenance tasks inside and outside her property.
Among the work they accomplished that day included repairing the home's front door, replacing the plumbing underneath her sink and building a new vanity in her bathroom. A few members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers even pitched in with a few electricity-related tasks around the woman's home, Ruff said.
"It's the right thing to do," Ruff said, while gathering some building materials from the back of his vehicle, about why he chose to give up his Saturday to help a neighbor in need. "You've got to help people."
Ruff and his squad were among the around 70 volunteers who offered their time and energy to the community during the fifth annual Rebuilding Together Build Day, organized by Rebuilding Together La Porte County.
The participants visited six La Porte residences that day, where they helped with jobs such as cleaning gutters, repairing damaged doors, installing new piping and building new wheelchair ramps for residents with mobility issues.
"It's about improving the community and improving lives," said Carey Garwood, secretary of the Rebuilding Together La Porte Board, while describing the program.
Garwood, who also serves as the outreach director with La Porte's Bethany Lutheran Church, helped establish the La Porte County affiliate of Rebuilding Together, a national nonprofit that helps revitalize homeowners' properties who, because of age or disabilities, cannot keep up with maintenance or repairs themselves.
The highlight of the year for the program is build day, which takes place in May. Over the past five years, volunteers — using materials paid for through donations from local sponsors — have repaired more than 40 homes in La Porte and Michigan City, Garwood said.
"This is a really, really good program that changes lives," said Bethany Lutheran Church Pastor Dennis Meyer, another longtime supporter of the organization. "The ramps we're building today will literally change lives because they will help homeowners get out of their homes more easily."
One of the ramps built on May 18 will help one homeowner, who has been confined to her house for the past three years, finally get out and back into the world again, Garwood said.
This year's build day drew volunteers from many backgrounds, including church members, business and trade professionals, and high school students with the National Honors Society. A few parents even brought along their young children to join in the action.
"It's great to see people coming together from all over the county to do some good," Meyer said. "Men or women, black or white — everyone is invited to participate. It's an extremely good feeling."
Meyer is hoping to see local awareness of Rebuilding Together grow even stronger and would like to assemble an even larger group of volunteers for future build days. The extra hands would allow the nonprofit to reach even more residents throughout the county, not just in La Porte and Michigan City as it has done in recent years.
Those interested in learning about the program may visit rebuildingtogetherlaporte.com.