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UPDATE: Honoring the Dream in Oakhurst

Hundreds of volunteers honor the memory of MLK Jr. this weekend by picking up a hammer or shovel to improve homes of seniors in Oakhurst

The axiom that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday should be a “day on, not a day off” rang true for the many volunteers who participated in this weekend’s Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project of Decatur.

As the weather warmed up from the arctic cold, volunteers  are spending Jan. 15-17 performing repairs and yard work for the homes of senior citizens in the Oakhurst neighborhood.

The aim of the project is to help seniors live safely, comfortably and affordably in their homes, honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “beloved community,” organizers said.

“We do it to keep our seniors here in our community, and because we know that they are the foundation of our community,” said Lee Ann Harvey with Volunteer! Decatur.

As Oakhurst has been subject to gentrification, many seniors who have lived for decades in their homes have found that they may no longer be able to stay as taxes have increased their property values. Adding to the squeeze is the need for home repairs.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Molly Nuttal about the project. “The project is a way to keep our neighborhood diverse.

“And it’s more than just working on someone’s house. It’s about connections,” said Nuttal, who served as a co-captain of volunteers working on a house in the neighborhood.

The project is a partnership between the Decatur Preservation Alliance, the City of Decatur, and numerous community organizations.

In its ninth year, organizers plan to perform repairs at 14 homes this weekend and yard work to several more. Work this year includes replacing wood, electrical work, weatherization, plumbing, rebuilding floors, and much more, Harvey said.

Electrical work is important to weatherization, which helps cut costs for seniors on fixed incomes.

“Many of the houses still have their old, original wiring,” said Michelle Bray of Bray Electrical Services, which provided assistance to the project. “This ‘knob and tube’ wiring runs through free air, and you can’t cover it with insulation.”

Last year, about 1,200 volunteers participate from nearly 50 groups, including places of worship, clubs, youth groups, and businesses. In 2003, 100 volunteers participated. City of Decatur employees have also adopted a home over the past several years, with city staff serving as “house captains.”

“Decatur is just a great community,” Bray said. “It’s like a modern-day barn raising. When your neighbors need help, you help your neighbors.”

The project will wrap up on Monday at 5 p.m. with a cookout at the Solarium at the Community of South Decatur, 321 W. Hill St.

Sponsors for the project this year include the Decatur Beer Festival, the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association, the Decatur Business Association, the Decatur Rotary Club, the Burdette Family Foundation, the Decatur Housing Authority, All Souls Fellowship, Holy Trinity Parish, Lockman Homebuilding Company, Decatur First United Methodist Church, Emory Presbyterian Church, Fairfield Mortgage/Decatur First Bank, Patti and Gary Garrett, and North Decatur United Methodist Church.

Other sponsors also included the Decatur First United Methodist Church Kindergarten, Bray Electrical Services, Patterson Services, Inc., Pinnacle Custom Builders, Renewal Design-Build, Appleseed Tree Service, King Tree Service, and Taveras Plumbing.

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