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Rebecca Sweet, associate professor of interior design, speaks with a reporter in front of a west Greenville home undergoing renovations by Rebuilding Together Pitt County, Inc., the nonprofit she heads to keep families warm, safe and dry. (Contributed photo)

‘Rebuilding Together’ Renovates Homes in Greenville

By Peggy Novotny

For the past three years, Rebecca Sweet, associate professor of interior design, has poured every spare moment into developing and managing the nonprofit volunteer organization, Rebuilding Together Pitt County, NC, an affiliate of national Rebuilding Together. Her efforts culminate each year on one day, a scheduled Saturday workday when skilled and unskilled laborers come together to make a difference in the community.

This year, the workers came on April 4. Sweet, the organization’s president, joined volunteers including Judy Siguaw, dean of the College of Human Ecology; Katherine Warsco, chair of the Department of Interior Design and Merchandising; Bob Chin, professor of technology systems; and students from Sweet and Chin’s classes, in renovating three homes in the west Greenville community.

The work was a labor of love mixed with perseverance for Sweet, Chin, other RTPC board members and contractors who volunteered their time and talents. The renovation projects came together only after sleepless nights, nail biting, a million e-mails and phone calls, fundraisers and a score of Friday afternoon board meetings at the office of Elaine Anderson, board member and owner of Century 21 The Realty Group.

“The most gratifying part of Rebuilding Together is getting to know the home owners, hearing their life stories, and helping them with repairs that seem overwhelming to them but can be remedied relatively quickly when people jump in to help,” said Sweet.

“Two of the three homes this year needed big jobs like roofing, rebuilt flooring systems, window installation, and electrical work. We feel so fortunate to have the help of local contractors like Gary Jackson, owner of GNJ Home Improvements, who donated skilled labor to help make the homes warm, safe and dry for families in our community in need of help.”

Like all home renovation projects, timing is everything. For Sweet and other board members, most of the challenges set in as they schedule projects with skilled labor in a way that takes advantage of unskilled laborers to complete the work on one annual work day. This coordination is coupled with scheduling delivery of building products, landscaping materials, dumpsters and even small prefab storage buildings that same day.

In the case of Ruby Taylor’s home on Ward Street, RTPC Work Day 2009 was a balancing act. An elderly matriarch of a large family and retired caterer for Pitt Community College’s child development center, Taylor was in great need of storage for the vast collection of cookware she still uses in catering weddings. Taylor’s son and grandsons joined volunteers in removing the rusty shed in her back yard to make way for a new storage shed donated by Salt Wood Products of Greenville.

The shed was delivered shortly after the demolition.

“Fundraising is also a big part of the board’s work,” Sweet said. “Finding grants in the current economic climate is not easy.” This year, however, RTPC received $10,000 in grants from Lowe’s and Sears Holdings that made the work possible. “Volunteers from Lowe’s and St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Greenville also pitched in with ECU and PCC faculty and student volunteers on the Work Day,” she said.

“They were great; it seemed like everyone was smiling all day long.”

The angst and insomnia are worth the effort, Sweet said, because volunteer efforts like RTPC are critical in communities.

“Today, many people are choosing between refilling prescription medications and patching their roof. That’s a terrible burden,” Sweet said.

The work, she said, “brings people together whose lives otherwise would not cross.” The work is also “an incredible way to model community building for my students and help them see the human side of interior design and the force for good that housing and design can be for humanity,” she said.

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This page originally appeared in the May 1, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at