Electricians Add Their Spark To Neighborhood Rebuilding Efforts

Each year, on the last Saturday in April, hundreds of Chicago-area tradesmen flock to low-income neighborhoods to repair dilapidated homes, community centers and shelters.

April 2009 was no exception. Under the coordination of Rebuilding Chicago Together (RCT), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving impoverished communities, union builders of every stripe spent a full day in the Village of Maywood and Chicago's Austin neighborhood repairing 80 homes and a handful of community centers.

"In all, we had 4,000 volunteers," says RCT Executive Director Wanda Ramirez, who adds that union electricians have supported the April event since its inception in 1992. "It really began as a collaboration among RCT, the City of Chicago, Cook County and skilled union labor," she elaborates.

Electrical workers, she says, "are instrumental in keeping the houses safe. It's truly amazing all the work they do. There is so much we wouldn't be able to accomplish without them."

Repairs range from gutting kitchens and bathrooms to performing important life-safety upgrades, according to Lloyd Davidson, chair of RCT's skilled labor committee. "Sometimes we'll go into basements and see exposed wire we need to encase in pipe. Other times we'll see an 'octopus' of cords tied to a single outlet, so we'll liven up other outlets in the room. And sometimes we find residents sitting in rooms that have no light at all."

Participation in the April event requires considerable planning. Electricians and other trades typically spend three to four weekends visiting the homes they are assigned to repair to determine the scope of work that each requires. When they arrive on Rebuilding Day, they are ready to hit the ground running, says Davidson.

Workers often return weeks after the event to tie up loose ends or perform additional repairs. By August, RCT and its teams of tradesmen are already visiting candidate neighborhoods and homes for the following year's event. "We get a breather here and there," says Davidson, "but this is basically a year-round effort."