Meet Executive Director of Rebuilding Together South Sound Amy Hoyte, who started with the nonprofit in 2005 as a program manager and its first employee. The Massachusetts native first moved to Tacoma in 2003 and had a background in the construction industry before joining the local Rebuilding Together organization, which utilizes volunteers to repair homes of locals in need.
When she first started, the nonprofit had a cash budget of around $125,000 and had completed 19 projects under the umbrella of one program: Rebuilding Together Day, which is a national program that takes place during the last weekend of April and relies on thousands of volunteers. Now, the South Sound branch operates a roughly $800,000 cash budget with six employees and three AmeriCorps members, and plans to do work on 140 homes between its four programs.
Last year, 500 local volunteers put their hands to work at 25 homes on Rebuilding Together Day, and the market value of the work completed was $460,000. Hoyte said the local need is endless, which is partially what’s kept her there for more than a decade, but it’s also endlessly rewarding.
In anticipation of Rebuilding Together Day on April 27, Hoyte shared some of her favorite stories from years past.
South Sound: Do you remember what one of your first Rebuilding Together volunteer days was like?
AH: In 2006, we worked with a family who had three sons. Before their third son was born, they were upwardly mobile and were about to get a bigger house as their sons grew. Their third son was born with severe disabilities, so Mom had to quit her job and stay home to care for him. Dad was working a job where he had to make sure he didn’t pick up the phone for overtime, because if his wages were too high, it would cut the funding for his son’s special food. So, they just lived in this dance and weren’t able to take care of the house.
We were able to come in and redesign the upstairs attic into two bedrooms for the boys. We redesigned the layout of the first floor, so we could create a little alcove in the parents’ bedroom for the young disabled son, so they could have their own space again. And then we upgraded the electrical. Because of all the machines their son needed, it was a really unsafe situation. So, they were able to stay in their home, safely, comfortably, and it was a much more conducive environment for the three children. It was hard, because (the youngest child) was a 6-year-old boy, and I had a 6-month-old child, and he really wasn’t much further mentally progressed than my baby. It was a really complicated, difficult, and rewarding project to complete at the end.
South Sound: Are there stories from volunteers that pulled your heart strings, in terms of why they choose to come out and donate their time?
AH: It’s almost the same story every time: The volunteers are telling me, “I got so much more out of this than they did.” We have some project leaders that are still going back to visit their first homeowner from 10 years ago and bringing her and her grandson Christmas presents, because they’ve created that relationship. I have one project leader from a couple years ago that takes his children to go visit his homeowner like once a month.
South Sound: Has there been a home-repair project that underwent a major transformation?
AH: Little things can be a huge transformation. The one person I’m thinking of, who was able to change her life because of what we did, was a woman who needed a wheelchair ramp. Sometimes she was in a wheelchair and sometimes she could walk, but she couldn’t do the stairs. So, she was living with an abusive partner, because she needed his assistance to get in and out of the house to go to the doctors, to go places, and do things. When we put in the wheelchair ramp, we were told that not so long after, she became a happily single woman in her home. She was able to take care of herself and be independent and not suffer at the hands of someone else.
South Sound: Can you talk a little about the need in our community for this organization? Roughly how many requests for home repairs does Rebuilding Together get?
AH: We probably field between 300 to 400 applications a year. We serve Pierce County, as well as Federal Way and Auburn, and we only serve a small snippet of our community. The people who are served by us must be low-income homeowners who live in the home, and then they have to be elderly, or be disabled, or have children in the household. Even though we’re serving such a small sliver, there’s still such a huge need in that small sliver of what we serve.
South Sound: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
AH: It’s something I don’t even get often anymore, but it’s the hugs from the homeowners. When you’re the only employee, then you get all the hugs from all the people. Now we have staff, and there’s program staff who work with the homeowners, so they don’t know who I am, and that’s amazing — they have relationships with different people. But that’s why we all keep doing this job. The homeowners are so grateful and skeptical that something like this is free.