Team Rubicon offers free home rehabilitation services to flood victims

NILES — Weeks of repairs lie ahead for residents seeking to restore their flood damaged homes. To help, a team of volunteers from a donor-funded nonprofit called Team Rubicon is offering free services to help residents rehabilitate their homes, including tearing out damaged flooring and drywall, mucking out the home and completing damage assessments. The volunteer project is called “Operation Barren Heart.”

A team of 15 volunteers from the national organization’s Midwest region was deployed to Niles recently with the intent of offering residents the services through March 16. To get in touch with the organization, residents in need should dial United Way’s 2-1-1 phone line, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The team of volunteers could possibly stay longer if needed and personnel is available.

Kendall Bruton, of Chicago, is the incident commander for Team Rubicon. She said the organization’s goal is to help residents get back on their feet. 

“The purpose of us coming is helping the homeowner so that they can start the rebuilding process, after we remove the drywall and flooring,” Bruton said. “We are helping them save money. They do not have to pay a contractor to come in and do the pricey removal of drywall and that allows them to save a little more money for the rebuilding process.”

On Tuesday, Bruton showed members of the media a home on Marmont Street that was devastated by the floodwaters. The floor of the home was covered in a thick layer of mud and part of the walls and drywall that had been drenched in murky water had been ripped out. 

For many, seeing the sight of their home in such a state is difficult to take in, Bruton said.

“A lot of community members have lived in these homes their entire lives,” Bruton said. “So, their memories of raising their kids and families and photo albums is all lost. Much of the time they do not know where to start.”

Through Team Rubicon, Bruton said she hoped to help homeowners complete the starting point in the recovery phase and resume life as normal.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Bruton said she did not know the number of residents who would be requesting their services because the team was still knocking on doors and collecting data.

Team Rubicon personnel is made up of military veterans and first responders. The nonprofit responds to natural disasters across the nation to lend a hand. In Niles, Team Rubicon began “Operation Barren Heart” Monday.   

Anna Murphy, United Way of Southwest Michigan’s president, also visited the site of the home Tuesday.

Over the course of the past weekend, Murphy said the charity organization had mobilized more than 500 volunteers across Berrien County to assist those impacted by the flooding.

Help is still needed, Murphy said. She encouraged people to visit United Way’s website and sign up to volunteer or donate needed items.

“We had so many people coming at us and saying, ‘I want to donate something.’ But we really try to track the information and wait for the needs to be truly assessed, so we can put those things back out there,” Murphy said. “We have also had a lot of people that want to volunteer and we are trying to coordinate that instead of having people just show up.”

United Way has also partnered with the Berrien Community Foundation to collect funds for disaster relief. Murphy said these dollars will be put toward the community’s long-term needs.

“The really cool things about this area is we have some very, very caring people,” Murphy said. “We just want to make sure it’s a coordinated effort.”

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