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Known for weatherization services, Portland nonprofit also does free home repair

After 30 years of marriage, Phyllis Melson-Ford's life suddenly changed when her husband died last year.

With her husband gone, and realizing her income alone couldn't cover the cost of a new roof and other needed repairs, the 63-year-old widow worried about whether she could stay in her house.

"I'd hate to give up my house," Melson-Ford said. "But I knew a lot of things needed to be done."

In the well-cared-for single-story ranch house Melson-Ford and her husband had called home for the past 12 years, the pair lived modestly but comfortably on their two incomes and cooperative division of domestic labor. Phyllis had ruled in the kitchen, and her husband had responsibility for maintenance. But without him, Melson-Ford felt a helplessness set in.

"He had things he did around the house and he did electrical repair, and I didn't take the time to learn those things," Melson-Ford said.

by: PHOTO BY MERRY MACKINNON - Wai Ming Tang, Community Energy Project service technician, installs a new smoke alarm in Phyllis Melson-Fords North Portland house. The nonprofit organization does free weatherization and repair services in the homes of low-income seniors and adults with disabilities.Fortunately, Melson-Ford already knew about Community Energy Project, a Northeast Portland nonprofit organization that does free home repairs, installs safety devices and weatherizes homes of low-income disabled and adults 55 and older.

Last year, Community Energy Project helped 250 applicants. "Most of our clients are females, and a lot are widows," said Community Energy Project's Sherrie Smith, outreach and marketing supervisor. "The husband did the repairs and the wife might be afraid to get on a ladder. Some are very isolated."

One day last October, Community Energy Project Service Technicians Josiah Broomfield and Wai Ming Tang went to Melson-Ford's house and installed grab bars in the bath, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in the hallway and roll-up vinyl storm windows in the bedroom. They also cleaned the gutters.

It helps that Melson-Ford lives in the North Portland Interstate Corridor urban renewal district, an area that the nonprofit (which receives city of Portland funding) is targeting, along with Southeast Portland's Lents neighborhood, another urban renewal district. A third service area consists of Portland overall, but with funding divided evenly among those three designations, demand is greater than Community Energy Project can handle in one year.

"We fill up very fast," Smith said.

And it's not just resident owners of houses or mobile homes who qualify. Many of the project's clients are renters, and Smith said their landlords are usually happy to have safety grab bars installed in the showers and doors weather-stripped.

"We fix a lot of doors and leaking sinks," said Broomfield, adding that repairs are considered on a case by case basis. "We try to accommodate everyone's needs."