By Melanie Petrucci, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Volunteers from St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Northborough and Charter Communications gathered April 29 at a west-side Worcester home to help with overdue household projects for a retired woman in her 80s. This group was led by Martha Gach who is also a parishioner and Rebuilding Together Worcester (RTW) Board member.
Other St. Rose volunteers, Craig and Genevieve Cox, Richard Talentino, John Sullivan and Gerard Gach (Martha’s husband), were stationed at the other five RTW sites happening the same weekend.
Martha’s group trimmed overgrown landscaping, replaced outdoor security lighting and disposed of two dumpster loads of junk.
“Photos don’t tell the whole story,” she said. “We only made a dent and there is still so much more to do.”
Martha and Gerard have dedicated their lives to service for others. They met in Zaire in 1983 while working in the Peace Corps.
“A nice boy from Iowa meets a nice girl from West Virginia, in Central Africa,” Gerard joked.
Gerard was raised in rural Iowa and went to college in Minnesota before joining the Peace Corps. His parents instilled in him strong Christian values. They were deeply involved within their church and community.
“Your life is an extension and should extend into the community,” he said.
Martha was born and raised in West Virginia. Her parents were university professors who opened their home to foreign students. Many were from Africa. This inspired her to join the Peace Corps. Her community service ethos came from Girl Scouting which she has carried into adulthood.
After the Peace Corps., Martha went to graduate school, received her doctorate and worked for the University of Michigan while Gerard settled into his career in Ann Arbor. They married and had their daughters, Eva and Margaret. In 1999, they relocated to Massachusetts due to Gerard’s growing career and made Shrewsbury their home.
Presently, Gerard is the chief marketing officer at Lewa Process Technologies, Inc., and Martha is the conservation coordinator at Mass. Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook.
Within a year of relocating, they searched for something that they could do together for their community. Originally parishioners of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Shrewsbury, it was there that they learned of a new start-up group called Rebuilding Together Worcester.
Seeds were planted by Donna Nodson, a junior from Assumption College, who learned about the Rebuilding Together organization and saw the need in Worcester. It is now an organization that has grown to over 4,000 volunteers and roughly $1 million dollars of in-kind materials and labor over that past 18 years.
“They came and gave a presentation and they were looking for people to get involved at the basic level …. That’s how we got our feet wet and we never looked back,” Martha said.
They left St. Mary’s a few years later and joined St. Rose of Lima, bringing the RTW program with them.
According to their website, “RTW is part of a nationwide, volunteer organization committed to improving the community by rehabilitating the houses of low-income homeowners, so that they may continue to live in warmth, safety.”
Martha currently serves as vice president and Gerard is an ex-officio. Martha is active in securing funding and recruiting volunteers who are sourced from local colleges, youth groups and local businesses. Their board consists of a diverse group of volunteers that draw from different skill sets and resources.
Sponsors include: City of Worcester, Corporation for National & Community Service, Massachusetts Service Alliance, Webster Five, Saint Rose of Lima Parish, Greater Worcester Community Foundation, GE, south High Community Service Learning Youth Council, Nuovo Restaurant, Thomas J. Woods Insurance Agency, Superior Waste & Recycling, Prism Point Photography, MCPHS, Alfred Roy and Sons Funeral Home, Eagle Cleaning Corporation, Liberty Tax Service, Compass Tavern and Criminal Defense Worcester.
Gerard summed up his experience with RTW, “It’s about human dignity…meeting the people and understanding their story. There are homes you walk into and you immediately know its situation due to circumstances, such as medical, and they just don’t have the wherewithal to maintain their homes.
“We are not government-supported and we are not affiliated with any religion,” he added. “We can fill in the gaps where other funding agencies are restricted.”
Applicants for the program are required to be low to moderate income, have current property insurance and live in their homes. Sites are identified by word of mouth and local human service agencies.
“Treasure the people in your community, even when they grow old and are on the verge of being forgotten because they were once the movers and the shakers and they should be valued,” Martha said.
Rebuilding Together Worcester is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. For more information, get involved or donate, visit: https://sites.google.com/site/rebuildingtogetherworcester/home.