Paul Lyman has lived in a small house on Dakota Street for all of his 78 years. Leaning on a cane Saturday, he couldn't remember the last time he was safely able to use the crumbling concrete front porch or steps. Home repairs are difficult for someone who is infirm and on a fixed income.
So it heartened Lyman to watch a dozen volunteers rebuild his porch and steps with wood planks, and clear thickets of brush from his yard. The labor was part of a joint effort between Lexington Habitat for Humanity and Thrivent Financial to improve seven owner-occupied homes and a public park in the Brucetown neighborhood just northeast of downtown Lexington.
"It's a blessing that at his age he's able to see this come through. He was inside earlier, crying," said Lyman's sister, Diana Salyers. She wiped dust off her hands after contributing some of the sweat equity that Habitat requires from the families it assists.
The "Thrivent Builds Repairs" program is different from the usual Habitat project, where new homes are built on vacant lots. To make its money go further, Thrivent Financial — a financial services firm for Christians — instead pays for exterior improvements to existing homes such as painting, landscaping and replacing lights, stairs, gutters, windows and doors.
Building a new home through Habitat might cost $60,000, while $2,500 can cover the supplies necessary to rehabilitate the outside of an older home, said Brittany Lawson, a financial associate at Thrivent Financial in Lexington.
"The more homes we can impact, the greater effect we have on the community," Lawson said. "It's about building community pride. We're hoping the neighbors will look over here and say, 'Hey, that looks good, maybe we can do that with our own property.' And then maybe the homeowners we're helping today will offer to help with that."
More than 100 volunteers bustled around North Upper, Florida and Dakota streets Saturday. There were church groups from around the city and students from Transylvania University and the University of Kentucky, including UK women's basketball players, spreading fresh mulch on the playground at Brucetown Park. Nearby, other students put sealant on the park's basketball court.
Tucked between West Seventh Street and a railroad embankment, the Brucetown neighborhood is one of the city's oldest. W.W. Bruce subdivided a field after the Civil War ended in 1865 to provide homes for black workers at his hemp-processing factory. Today, some homes are boarded up; a few of the tiny "shotgun shacks" have a fair cash value of under $10,000, according to the Fayette County property valuation administrator.
"For me, I think that until all of us have a decent place to live, then none of us do," said Rachel Smith Childress, chief executive of Lexington Habitat, standing in the middle of Florida Street.
Kia Langford shares a three-bedroom home on Florida Street with her two daughters and son. Langford worked alongside the volunteers Saturday to replace her fence, gutters and shrubbery and remove a tree that threatened to bring down her neighbor's utility lines. She said that home maintenance can be a greater challenge than people realize when they buy a house.
"Without their help, I would probably not be able to do any of this," Langford said. "I appreciate this so much. It's just awesome."