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BRI/Brothers Redevelopment Inc. --`helping people house each other' is what this group is all about

WIELDING paintbrushes, ladders, and gallons of paint, nearly 1,500 volunteers will soon spruce up the exteriors of 100 homes belonging to Denver senior citizens. The annual one-day painting spree, set for Aug. 17 and organized by Brothers Redevelopment Inc. (BRI), assists homeowners living on a slim budget. ``Helping people house each other'' is what BRI is all about.

That's the slogan of this nonprofit, volunteer-supported, home services organization that for 14 years has helped literally thousands of disadvantaged, disabled, and elderly people to better their living quarters.

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BRI was founded in 1971, after construction worker Joe Giron, a Hispanic-American native of Colorado, ran into one financial and bureaucratic obstacle after another when he wanted to buy an old house in his West Denver neighborhood.

While working one day, he met and explained his plight to Donald D. Schierling, then executive director of the Denver Mennonite Urban Ministry. He mentioned to Mr. Schierling that he wondered how many other people might be having similar problems.

Mr. Schierling explained that both he and the Rev. Richard A. Magnus, an inner-city Lutheran minister, were trying to assist on various community issues including housing, and so they helped him obtain his home by guiding him to the right lenders, lawyers, and government agencies.

Meanwhile, Mr. Giron and a friend, Manuel Martinez, who worked in building maintenance, had attended a retreat on Christianity which Mr. Giron describes as ``the first ecumenical experience that I ever had in my life.'' The two friends decided that they, too, wanted to help others with their housing problems.

So, though each was involved in quite different ways, the two churchmen and the two laymen pooled their knowledge and experience to found BRI to help those who could least help themselves. They then sought volunteers who would help them ``smooth out the rough spots in our neighborhoods.''

Their work, over the years, has been funded by grants from foundations and corporations, from donations by churches and private citizens, and in some cases from government agencies.

Services to people have included repairs and renovation of owner-occupied homes, home ownership counseling, energy conservation assistance, property management, and the recruitment, education, and training of volunteer workers. Today, Mr. Giron is president and chief executive officer of BRI, and heads a paid staff of 26, which in turn, he says, ``orchestrates'' the work of up to 3,000 volunteers each year.

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The volunteers, from all walks of life, come from churches, corporations, businesses, and professional and civic organizations. Many people just walk in off the street, according to Mr. Giron, and say, ``I've heard about what you people are doing. What do I do to sign up?''

In the first 10 years of operation, BRI volunteers worked a total of 96,960 hours and completed 9,071 volunteer projects. Last year the group helped over 3,000 people and completed over 374 rehabilitation and new construction projects.

``The impact on the city's neighborhoods, due to upgraded property values,'' says Mr. Giron, ``exceeds by thousands of dollars the actual money invested. The value in human terms is, of course, immeasurable because we've helped eliminate many scars of neglect and disrepair.''

The BRI Paint-A-Thon project has already been duplicated in 10 other cities. For a minimal fee, BRI sells a do-it-yourself-guide and a film to other organizations that want to tackle such a project. Organizations within the various cities generally provide paint for the 100 homes. In the case of BRI's project, the First Interstate Bank of Denver made the donation.

Other activities include a ``May We Have Your Interest?'' project to be launched Sept. 29 by BRI and the Lutheran churches of America. The groups will borrow $100 each from 5,000 people. The $500,000 raised will then be invested and the interest used for a ``trust fund'' to assist first-time owners in raising down payments for the purchase of homes.

In its ``alternative service program'' BRI works with four judges in the city, enabling first-time offenders to work out their fines or sentences through community service.

``Instead of going to jail,'' says Mr. Giron, ``they come to work with us on our community projects. Many keep coming back even after they have worked out their fines because they like what we are doing.''

BRI also likes the kind of partnership it has each year with the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Home Fashions League (NHFL) in producing a small modest ``showhouse'' aimed at benefiting, with remodeling and decorating ideas and information, people who live in low-income areas.

This past spring the joint-effort house was a 800-square-foot dwelling built in 1895 at 2526 Julian Street, in what is now an inner-city neighborhood. A HUD repossession, the house was vacant and badly deteriorated when it was rescued to become the joint rejuvenation ``New Beginnings'' project of the two organizations.

Both exterior and interior space planning and decoration were done by professional design members of the NHFL. All furnishings for the transformation were donated by the J. C. Penney Company, and other local companies gave building materials, appliances, and cabinets.

Dorothy Collins, NHFL chapter president, says the unusual showhouse attracted hundreds of low- to middle-income residents who came to see how they might begin to improve their own homes. League-member hostesses explained exactly what took place and why in the renovation and decoration of the house, and gave suggestions for decorating on a limited budget.

All renovation work on the house was done by about 30 Denver high school students through the year-round Youth Construction Training Program, a joint effort of BRI and the Denver Public Schools Career Education Center.

The students did all the carpentry-related jobs, from framing to finish carpentry and roofing, as well as landscaping and painting, earning not only classroom credits but $3.35 per hour for extra after-school work on the project.

The goal of the collaborative effort is to provide a productive job experience and career training in construction work to qualifying Denver inner-city youth. The students who worked on the project were supervised at all times by BRI and education personnel from the Denver School system.

Jack Hayden, carpentry supervisor, comments about the program, ``It gives opportunity for students to learn and accomplish in a concrete work setting. The greatest payoff for me, as a teacher, is to witness the progress I see in their performances, and to see the excitement and pride in their faces as they successfully complete each project.'' Their projects are either total renovations of abandoned houses or construction of new homes on vacant lots in Denver.

This summer, students participating in the Youth Construction Training Program are renovating a single-family two-story house, remodeling a duplex, and building three new homes, which will be sold to qualifying first-time home buyers through the Colorado Housing Finance Authority. This fall the school-year program will involve the building of a new duplex in northwest Denver.

The ``New Beginnings'' showhouse was sold at its appraised value of $67,500 to a young couple with a baby who are first-time homeowners, and the furnishings were auctioned to provide seed money for next year's renovation project.

Says Mr. Giron, ``I think that here in Denver we are demonstrating what can be done without much money, and without depending on government to solve our social ills. We are proving that we can help each other through the work of businesses, and other organizations.

``And we think that what we are doing could be duplicated to improve the quality of life in any city. We are willing to share what we have learned.''

For more information, write to BRI, 2519 West 11th Avenue, Denver, Colo., 80204.

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