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Frank Gray

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Ambitious roof project is ‘doable’

Ten years ago, an organization called Neighbor Link started trying to bring together volunteers and people who just needed a little help.

The concept was that a person with the know-how and perhaps some tools could provide a little neighborly assistance to people who couldn’t do something themselves and couldn’t afford to hire someone.

We’re not talking major projects here. Perhaps an elderly person needed someone to fix a broken window, or trim some bushes, replace a faucet or even move some furniture.

“It’s always been up to the volunteers” to get things done, said Andrew Hoffman, executive director of Neighbor Link. “They choose the projects” that are listed on the organization’s website.

In the past few years, though, Neighbor Link has gotten a little more daring.

“In the past few years we’ve replaced roofs and installed furnaces,” Hoffman said.

A few weeks ago, just in time for the last weekend of the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival, Neighbor Link decided to take on its most ambitious project ever, something called the Raise the Roof Project.

There are 25 people asking for help repairing or replacing a roof. Replacing a roof is no small task. It takes experienced people, usually contractors. But Hoffman decided to try to do five roofing jobs in one weekend, this Friday and Saturday, choosing single-story homes with relatively flat roofs that would be easier to work on.

The good news is that Hoffman assembled crews and raised $8,000 to tackle the projects. The bad news is that he has crews to work on only three houses, he’s still $1,500 short of what he needs to fund the work on those three homes, and he could use about 12 more volunteers to help with tasks like cleanup and carrying shingles.

Hoffman isn’t distraught or depressed, though.

Roofers work all week installing roofs, so it is tough to find crews that are willing to work on one of their days off, particularly in the middle of a drought and heat wave, even if grants are available to pay for their labor.

“Finding a contractor to donate time is hard, and finding one to work with volunteers is hard,” Hoffman said.

So is Hoffman’s grand plan doomed to fall short?

Well, Hoffman says, organizing crews and finding funds for the other two houses on his list on just a day or two of notice would be difficult, “But it’s doable.”

Over the past few years there have been other organizations and spontaneous efforts that have tackled major projects for people caught in a jam. During that time Neighbor Link mostly focused on little tasks that perhaps a single individual could accomplish in a couple of hours.

Perhaps trying to do five roofs in two days in the middle of the city’s biggest festival was a little ambitious for Neighbor Link, but no one should be discouraged. If nothing else, Hoffman’s project has brought a little attention to Neighbor Link.

Meanwhile, contractors, volunteers or people willing to donate money or materials can call Hoffman at 710-7611.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.