‘They Have Made Me So Happy, This Beautiful Group Here’
By James Cullum
It looked like everything in Molly Grimes’ house was collected in the living room, and there she was calmly sitting the middle of it. All around the 88-year-old were the sounds of hammers and drills and teams of people excusing themselves up and down the stairs and through the hallways and outside raking and planting and finally fixing the floorboards in that old front porch.
“They have made me so happy, this beautiful group here,” Grimes said. “I love living in this house. I’ll love it as long as I can live here by myself.”
Grimes has lived at 414 North West Street since her parents passed away 25 years ago, and had previously lived with them and her seven siblings from 1947 until she got married in 1955. Now Grimes is constantly visited by any number of relatives, including her five children, 20 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
“I’m really blessed to be loved, but sometimes they get on my nerves,” Grimes joked. “If there’s too many around me at times I’ll just go upstairs, and say, ‘Y’all help yourselves, but I’m gone to get me some privacy.’”
Grimes’ son Rodney Grimes and grandson Leslie Shepherd stopped by the house to be with her during the renovation. That’s right – the Leslie Shepherd who played wide receiver for the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.
“She’s not going anywhere for a long time,” Shepherd said. “If anyone is looking for anybody in our entire family they come to Alexandria to see Mamma. They start here. She’s like the original social media.”
The team fixing up the house was made up of 25 people participating with Rebuilding Together Alexandria, the nonprofit dedicated to rehabilitating homes for low-income, military and elderly residents. The 25 volunteers were all employees of Bethesda, Md.-based AGNC Investment Corp., and put about $10,000 worth of interior and exterior work in the three-bedroom home.
April 27 is National Rebuilding Day, and on that day Rebuilding Together Alexandria will send out teams of hundreds of volunteers to 41 projects in Alexandria and Congress Heights in the District. That might seem like a low number for the nonprofit that was founded in 1986, and has recruited more than 28,000 volunteers for thousands of home renovation projects, bringing nearly $9 million of in-kind value to the city. Well, that’s only because the organization has expanded their work far beyond the month of April. This year alone, for instance, RTA has served 113 households.
Rebuilding Together Alexandria President and CEO Katharine Dixon has been with the organization since 2003.
“Our low-income clients often have to choose between food, medicine, a roof repair. So when teams like this come out and provide these repairs free of charge, then our clients can spend their limited income on food and medicine and transportation and daycare,” Dixon said. “At the end of the day, what the outcome is for Margaret is that she gets to remain in this home. And more importantly, she gets to remain in the city of Alexandria, where we are trying through the work that we do to just keep the city culturally, socially and economically diverse. Without volunteers like this group that’s not possible.”
Don Holly, the managing director of AGNC Ventures, was the team leader and broke the 25 people into five teams, which were supervised by Rebuilding Together Alexandria staff.
“Rebuilding Together is trying to keep people in their homes, we’re trying to provide the financing that allows people to buy homes and stay in their homes,” Holly said. “So it’s important for our employees to feel like they’re doing something good, and it’s also important to be aligned with what our shareholders want us to do, which is help people stay in their homes.”