Volunteers tackle home repairs for Dot Gold Star family

Suheil Campbell and her children, Alexa and Alexander, show the flag at their newly renovated home. Photos courtesy of the Mass Mortgage Bankers Assn.

Last Friday, under a cloudless sky, more than 80 volunteers showed up bright and early to a home on Radcliffe Street in Dorchester that belongs to Suheil Campbell, a single mother of two whose husband, Cpl. Edgardo Zayas, was killed in action in Iraq.

Cpl. Zayas was 29 years old and a specialist with the 101st Airborne Division when he was killed by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad on Aug. 26, 2006.

“He joined the Army because he wanted a better future for his family, for his kids,” said Campbell. “I wanted to buy a house to fulfill his dream.” She did just that, purchasing the two-story house off of Harvard Street in 2007.

But with her hands full raising two children, Alexa and Alexander, she needed help with upkeep of the aging house, so she reached out to the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, which put her in contact with Rebuilding Together Boston, an organization that helps people who are unable to repair their own homes due to illness or financial restraints.

“Our main focus is to not only help them stay in their homes but also to help stabilize neighborhoods as well,” said project manager Karen Clay.

A collaboration with Mass Mortgage Bankers Foundation brought scores of volunteers from local businesses to Radcliffe Street to take on a full docket of projects, including repairing water damage in the basement, reinforcing the foundation, building a new patio, replacing doors, and remodeling showers, among other tasks.

Jenn Couldren of the Massachusetts Mortgage Banking Association, one of the dozen or so businesses that contributed volunteers, marveled at the amount the team was able to accomplish in a short amount of time.

“When you have that many hands, what you can do in one day, it’s amazing,” she said. “You don’t need to be skilled; you just need to want to help somebody else.”

While the bulk of the financial work was handled by bankers and mortgage brokers with little more than a will to give back to the community, the group was also aided by a handful of professional plumbers, electricians, and roofers who ensured a level of expertise on the more complex tasks.

Others, like Ben McKillop, donated their own experience in homebuilding.

“My grandfather was a builder, so I learned to swing a hammer at a young age,” McKillop said. The Boston branch manager of Mortgage Network oversaw the creation of a new cement patio in the backyard. He said it was the second year his company had volunteered with Rebuilding Boston, and explained that this kind of work was natural for them.

“A lot of my guys are hard workers and I think a lot of it has to do with when we were kids, we were put to work that way. So it kind of translates into our business now. My whole branch usually comes out, even if it’s just for a few hours. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

The worksite was filled with a positive, determined spirit throughout the morning and afternoon as volunteers worked tirelessly at their respective projects. Clay noted this collective energy and the good-natured atmosphere it created.

“That’s part of our job also,” she said. “On one side, we’re there to make homes healthier and safer, but we also want to make a really good experience for the volunteers. We want them to do a great day of work and leave feeling like they’ve made a difference.”

Campbell was stunned by how the volunteers improved her property. “This is so overwhelming,” she said. “I’m so grateful to all the people who were willing to help.”

The project’s finishing touch was set in Campbell’s front yard: a memorial headstone bearing Corporal Zayass’ name and nestled in a bed of white stone next to a budding rosebush.

For Campbell, this was perhaps the most important addition. “My heart...I’m full of joy,” she said with a smile and a shake of the head. “God is good.”