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Berkeley Volunteer Helps Household Repairs For Those In Need

BERKELEY (CBS SF) -- As people get older, it can get harder to keep up with home maintenance and repairs. For nearly 30 years, a Berkeley woman has helped make sure those in need get such services for free.

Suzanna Yeh and Ethel Murphy sit on the steps of Murphy's Berkeley home, laughing. But it was no joke when Yeh first surveyed Murphy's leaky roof and found other problems.

"Then we discovered she didn't have hot water, she didn't have a shower," said Yeh.

There was more.

"The ceiling electricity were all hanging down," explained Yeh.

Murphy has several relatives living with her and couldn't afford repairs to her home. After their meeting, Yeh said she stood outside the house.

"I cried. Because I don't think anybody should be living in this condition," Yeh remembered.

Yeh is a founding board member of Rebuilding Together East Bay-North.

The 28-year-old nonprofit does free home repairs for low-income senior citizens, the disabled and veterans in Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville and Richmond.

Yeh and a team of volunteers spent two years fixing Murphy's house.

"From rags to riches, let me tell you, they did an excellent, wonderful job," said the 81-year-old Murphy with a smile.

Rebuilding Together has serviced more than 500 homes and 150 community facilities like senior centers.

More than a thousand volunteers donate their time, from contractors to Rotary Club members who recently replaced more than 100 burned-out light bulbs at McGee Avenue Baptist Church:

Now church staff member Norman Franklin can prepare homeless meals in the church kitchen any time of day.

"If the light is not working, I gotta wait 'til daytime to do it," Franklin said.

Yeh has been serving as a board member and volunteer since she and her husband helped launch Rebuilding Together with its first repair project in 1991.

She worked a nursing home administrator. Her late husband, Bill Cain, was a structural engineer and former mayor of Albany.

At first, the volunteer group did a single one-day home repair event each year called Christmas in April.

The nonprofit changed its name to Rebuilding Together East Bay-North as volunteers took on projects year round.

City and corporate grants fund the materials; the nonprofit also secures the necessary permits for the work that needs to be done.

Yeh's joy in serving others through the years inspires the nonprofit's program manager George Reskin.

"She's got a great heart," Reskin said. "She's just there for those in need."

So for improving the lives of low income elderly, disabled, and veterans through free home repairs, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Suzanna Yeh.

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