Macon council members make pitch for grant

When it looked like money earmarked for Rebuilding Macon, a nonprofit group that repairs more than 250 homes each year for the elderly and disabled, might be in danger, Councilman Rick Hutto jumped to the group’s defense. At stake: a $35,000 community development block grant channeled from the federal government through the city’s Economic & Community Development Department.

While the city has worked with Rebuilding Macon for more than a decade, the council’s Community Resources and Development Committee had to approve the agreement for this year. That’s when Councilman Mike Cranford, who heads the Appropriations Committee, noticed that almost a quarter of the grant was intended for administrative costs.

“Usually, administrative costs are 3 or 4 percent of the grant,” Cranford said, thinking that the $8,500 chunk would be paying someone simply to cut checks.

Wanzina Jackson, director of the Economic and Community Development Department, explained that the seemingly high percentage actually pays to have specialists supervise and perform work that requires certifications and licenses, work that volunteers aren’t allowed to do.

Then Hutto stepped in, calling Rebuilding Macon’s work “vital to the community.”

Last year, Hutto and his 16-year-old daughter, Katy, spent her birthday — her choice, he said — helping paint a two-story house for an elderly woman.

Councilwoman Lauren Benedict was also on the volunteer crew with the Huttos that day.

“It really is a tremendous service to the city,” she said after the meeting. Benedict said the homeowner was so grateful that she cooked long hours to prepare lunch for the volunteer crew.

“She literally prepared a feast.”

While this was Benedict’s first hands-on experience as a volunteer with Rebuilding Macon, she became familiar with the group’s work when members of her church, St. Paul’s Episcopal, helped replace a kitchen floor that was so decayed that one volunteer fell through it.

“They help people who don’t have the resources to fix the problems with their homes,” she said. “They stabilize the community by keeping people in the homes they’ve lived in for a long time.”

Jackson stresses that point. The city already has more than 300 houses on its condemnation list. The city goes to court, demolishes the house and places a lien on the property for the costs. Rebuilding Macon helps the city fight blight by preventing even more houses from being condemned, even working with homeowners who have been cited for code violations.

The executive director of Rebuilding Macon is Debra Rollins, who has a big smile and abundant energy, which she puts to good use. Every year, she inspects more than 400 houses to select which ones the volunteer groups will work on.

She said she understood the confusion during the council meeting. It really boiled down to familiarity.

“I think we’re one of the best-kept secrets in the city,” she said.

She rattled off a long list of impressive numbers, such as the 1,400 high school and college students who come to Macon for their spring breaks, some from as far away as Boston University and the University of Miami (Ohio). Or that the group’s annual Macon Rebuilding Day, an all-day marathon of home repair, brings together almost 2,000 volunteers to fix up 40 homes.

The $35,000 grant will also help pay for 300 teens to come in for a week this June to fix eight roofs and complete eight paint jobs.

Hutto said he’s glad the concern with Rebuilding Macon’s grant was settled because he has no reservations about funding the group.

“They are the best run nonprofit in the city,” Hutto said. “They do so much with so little.”

To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.