Just chatting with skilled crew chief Al Terry, you can really feel the heart come through in the Hammer with a Heart program that he is so passionate about. For 10 years, Terry's team has been working to improve people's homes and their lives. And, in the process, improving our community, too.
“I'm not in it for the recognition,” Terry tells The Madison Times in an interview at Panera Bread on Fish Hatchery Road. “I really enjoy doing this. To see the people at the end after you have helped them with their homes …. it's overwhelming for me to see it all come together. The appreciation that they give me as well as everybody that has come to their home — that is just incredible.”
Hammer with a Heart, an all-volunteer program aimed at making the lives of needy Dane County families safer and easier one repaired house at a time, is celebrating its 12th anniversary this year.
Recently, on the morning of Saturday, May 4 — which is the official Hammer with a Heart day — more than a dozen community volunteers came together as they continued to make a huge difference in a person's life who truly needed it. The crew continued its work on the house of south side resident Garry Hodgins, a two-time cancer survivor and Army veteran, who had lived in his home for 25 years.
The whole remodeling process started in January and will wrap up next week on May 20.
“It's just an incredible way for the [Madison Area] Builders Association to give back to the neighborhood in which we live and work,” Terry says. “So many people stepped up on this particular project. Everybody says that I do it, but I'm just one of 50 different companies that have gone through that house or donated money to assist that particular project. “
Terry, who is the owner of Stealth Security in Madison, recently organized the work on Hodgins's home as the crew leader for the Madison Area Builders Association volunteer crew, now in its 10th year coordinating a project for Hammer with a Heart.
“At the [Madison Area Builders] Association, we try to work in a positive way to give back to the community,” Terry says. “We want everybody to understand that if you can help a person just a little you'd be surprised how far they can go after that. It doesn't take much. And if they can see what we've done for them, maybe they will do something for somebody else.”
Hodgins originally approached Hammer for a Heart with a request for new windows, but it turned out that he needed much, much more. “We soon found that he had the original furnace in his house. This house was built back in '48. So this thing was huge,” Terry says. “Yeah, we could have come in and addressed the windows, but how much more efficient was this going to be by just replacing the windows. So, let's take it a step further and bring in some heating and cooling guys and see what they think about it.”
They brought in Dave Jones Plumbing and Heating and they told Terry, 'No problem. We're replace the furniture for you.' As a result, Hodgins now has a brand-new furnace. “But, once the furnace got ripped out, they noticed that the ducts had never been cleaned since day one,” Terry says. “So, a brand-new furnace defeats the purpose if the ducts have never been cleaned.”
Terry soon brought in Dirty Ducts Cleaning Environmental and Insulation Inc. to take care of the duct work. The ducts were filthy and not much was coming through. Dirty Ducts fixed it all. “So we put in new windows, a new furnace, and new ducts and we notice that the roof is not doing what it's supposed to,” Terry says. “We see a leak on the wall. As we dig into things, we begin to see other things. That's when we go above and beyond what the homeowners ask for.”
So they replaced Hodgins' roof, siding, windows, furnace, and ducts. But there was still more to come.
“When we do our site visits, we try to really get to know the homeowner, and one of the things about Garry is that he loved to cook,” Terry says. “He has the original kitchen and cooking is therapeutic for him as a two-time survivor of cancer. We felt that we had to do something about the kitchen, too.”
Once Terry learned how important cooking was to Hodgins, he immediately wanted to make his kitchen part of the Madison Area Builders Association project. Terry called American TV and got a new microwave and stove for Hodgins. He called Bob Renforth, a cabinetry and millwork specialist at Auburn Ridge, and got new appliances and new cabinets. Terry called B & B Laminates Inc. and got new counter tops. He called Statz Painting and they donated the paint to get the kitchen painted. He made another quick call to Coyle Carpet One and they replaced the floors.
“Within a matter of a week, I have him a brand-new kitchen,” Terry says. “It's all due to the fact that I'm making phone calls and it's due to the Madison Building Association that really steps up to the plate to make things happen. This has been our most expensive project to date. To give you a ballpark number, when it's all said and done, we're probably looking at $40,000-45,000 in improvements at Garry's house. And all he wanted was his windows replaced.”
Each spring, Hammer with a Heart, sponsored by the Madison-based nonprofit group Project Home, brings together about 200 skilled workers from local construction firms and the trades and community volunteers to make major improvements on about a dozen homes. Hammer with a Heart makes crucial repairs and health and safety improvements for low-income homeowners, with all volunteer labor and donated materials.
Skilled crews work on the homes on and off for weeks, as their regular work schedules allow, leading up to a final Saturday in May, when community volunteers join the skilled crews to finish all the houses with final tasks such as cleaning, painting, recycling, and basic home maintenance such as changing furnace filters.
Terry first found out about Project Home through the Madison Area Home Builders Association more than 10 years ago.
“The first event that we did was when we assisted the Salvation Army over on Darbo. It was a very large project,” Terry remembers. “I was very fortunate my first year to work with some incredible people. I got a chance to work with [former Badger football coach] Barry Alvarez and the football team and that's what got me really involved and interested.”
Terry was working with 10 very large UW football players who he remembered were extremely polite, articulate, and well-mannered. “You would ask them to do something and it would be, 'Yes, sir. No, sir.' Barry [Alvarez] would speak to them and it would be 'Yes, coach. No, coach,'” Terry remembers. “These 10 guys were working for me and I was the littlest guy there. One kid that was huge I thought was the center until somebody told me he was the kicker.”
Since then, Terry has been hooked on helping people improve their homes. “There have been just so many worthwhile benefits for me on a personal level with the families I get to help as well as the Terry says.
Terry remembers one incident in particular where he was working on a home with younger kids. “The nine-year-old daughter came up to me and said, 'My friends' bedrooms are all painted, but I don't like bringing friends to my house because my bedroom is not painted,'” Terry remembers. “The girl was embarrassed. And for a nine-year-old to be embarrassed and upset …. that really grabbed my heart. I asked her, 'How do you want your room painted?' I did everything she asked me to. I felt like I had to get this right. Afterward, she was just overwhelmed.”
Months later, Terry got a letter in the mail with a crayon-drawn picture of the little girl and her buddies jumping on the bed in her bedroom. The letter just said, “I love my room! I love my room! I love my room!”
“I have it framed and it sits on the wall in my office at home,” Terry says. “That's the coolest part of what I do. You can't put a price on that.”
Over the last eleven years, 85 low-income families in 27 Dane County communities have received major repairs valued at approximately $950,000 through the Hammer with a Heart program. With an average investment of $10,000 in each home, this year, the community-building event will surpass $1 million in home repair values since the program’s inception in 2002. With the support of the community, Hammer with a Heart has been able, and will continue, to not only repair people’s homes, but also change their lives.
“Folks need to meet an economic criteria as well as a ‘need’ criteria on what needs to be done on their homes,” Terry says. “We'll probably see somewhere between 75-100 applications. Project Home will screen the applications to make sure everybody is meeting the right criteria and then from there they will bring in their sponsors. The Madison Home Builder Association is a sponsor of one of the homes. This year, we had nine individual sponsors. So, we had nine houses that we provided services to.”
The bad part of this is that out of those 75-100 applications, Terry adds, you can only choose 25 for revue and only nine will be accepted.
“I wish that we could do even more houses,” Terry says. “But some of these homes are in quite the disarray and we don't want to spread ourselves too thin. We don't want to give a person 50 percent when they need 90 percent. That's what we're focused on. We're able to provide a lot to a homeowner. It's unfortunate that we can't do 20 houses a year, but it's like the story of the stone cutter — he's got this big mountain, but he's only got a little hammer. So, we'll just keep chipping away at it. Eventually, we'll take that mountain down. It might take a lifetime, but we'll get it done. But for what we do, I think we do an incredible job.”
Hammer with a Heart is a program of Project Home who are always in need of volunteers. For more information, visit the website at www.projecthomewi.org