Diane Mitchell: volunteer and beneficiary

by Lane Blackmer

For some folks, a 5k race might be exercise. To others it might be a form of torture. But for Diane Mitchell, who doesn’t run, it’s a means of keeping a waterfall out of your living room.

Mitchell is a volunteer for Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP), which will host its second 5k on Saturday, May 19, on Forbidden Drive to further assist home improvements on Philadelphia blocks like hers on Clapier Street in Germantown.

RTP has helped hundreds of homeowners fund repair to their homes. They recently helped Mitchell repair a failing roof. In turn, Mitchell said she’ll be volunteering to do things like help check runners in. But this wasn’t her first run-in with the organization.

When Mitchell, a retired revenue supervisor for SEPTA, first realized she needed a new roof, she did her research, got a few quotes and employed a roofer to redo her roof. After about two years passed, in May 2011 her roof started leaking again.

When she called the roofer, he said he’d come look at it, but never showed. Soon, he was ignoring Mitchell’s calls.

After months of keeping tabs on the weather and hurrying home to place tarps all over her living room, so rain water didn’t ruin her furniture, Mitchell realized there were two options – take the “unscrupulous roofer” to small claims court or let it go and pay another roofer to get the job done right.

“I didn’t want to go through that hassle of going through the small claims court and, at that time, the roof wasn’t that bad,” she said. “But as time progressed, I had it patched up. The patch job wasn’t sufficient and the problem got worse to the point where I needed a whole new roof.”

After talking to friends about the issue, Mitchell heard of a nonprofit called RTP.

But when she called them last August, they explained to her that they primarily do block rebuilds and wouldn’t be able to help her unless she and five other neighbors applied.

Mitchell then gathered the applications for her neighbors – since she also knew many of them to of had issues with dishonest workers.

“One of my life philosophies is we’re here to be blessings to each other, and a blessing, to me is when someone extends themselves to help you or someone else,” she said.

After applying for her neighborhood to be recipients to the charity, Mitchell set out to be a blessing to other Philadelphians in need. The first time she volunteered for RTP was in October of 2011.

“It gives me a warm feeling to know that there are people in the world who care about other people,” she said, adding that seeing people give up their weekends – like volunteers at RTP have to do – is particularly impressive. “If each one of us does our little bit, that’s where the tidal wave comes in. It’s a tsunami.”

But it wasn’t until December that the tsunami wasn’t in Mitchell’s living room.

After a few months of inspecting her and her neighbors’ houses, officials from RTP informed Mitchell that her neighborhood was accepted into the program. The same day she heard that she would be getting a new roof in April, Mitchell received a letter from her homeowners insurance company that said they’d be cancelling her coverage if her roof wasn’t fixed by mid-January.

Afraid she’d lose her coverage, Mitchell asked RTP to send a letter to her insurance company informing them that the work would be done in a few months.

A couple days later, RTP sent a roofer to finish the job within the week.

“Oh my goodness, the water works just came,” she said. “What little I can do to help somebody else through this organization is, in comparison, a mere pittance for what they’ve done for me.

RTP board member Jennifer Shropshire said the last race in 2010 was unsuccessful due to timing – it was just after Labor Day and it rained. Only about 75 runners showed up. She moved the event to May in hopes that it’ll be more successful this year.

Shropshire said money raised from the race would go directly toward finishing projects on blocks the organization recently helped, like Mitchell’s. To register, go to the RTP’s website at rebuildingphilly.org/runtorebuild.

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