Lynae Hanson
Jason Frank uses a table saw during a Rebuilding Together work day. (Submitted)

Kathy Peterson, left, and Tina Holmes repair cracks in a driveway as volunteers with Rebuilding Together Bismarck/Mandan (Submitted)

Left to right: Homeowner Yvonne Kubik stands with Rebuilding Together volunteers Jim Miller, Aaron Kraft and Brooke Steffes outside Kubik's home. (Submitted)

Brooke Steffes has volunteered with Rebuilding Together Bismarck/Mandan for 11 years, including serving as vice president of the housing nonprofit's board of directors. (Lynae Hanson)

Sometimes, I look around at all of the work my husband and I have done to our house and feel completely blessed. Because of steady employment, knowledge of power tools, creativity and my husband's brute strength, we have been able to make all the rooms in our house functional, comfortable and stylish.

Not everyone is that lucky, though. North Dakota has an 11.8 percent poverty rate, which means an income below $23,834 annually for a family of four. Many of North Dakota's veterans have come back from serving our country and are either unemployed or disabled. Twenty percent of our population is made up of aging adults (age 60+), with 28 percent of them living alone and 11 percent living in poverty. Many also deal with accessibility issues.

Lack of money, limited physical ability and no family support can lead to some pretty dire circumstances when it comes to caring for a home. Shingles blow off roofs. Carpets wear out and bunch up. Siding deteriorates. Weeds take over lawns. Railings rust and fall apart.

It's these types of repairs the Rebuilding Together crew likes to tackle.

Rebuilding Together Bismarck/Mandan is a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping people warm, safe and independent. Serving low-income homeowners, especially the elderly, people with disabilities and families with children, Rebuilding Together is supported by local businesses, allowing the organization to "rebuild" houses and communities. All the work (with the exception of a few tasks) is performed by volunteers, using donated materials and resources at no cost to the homeowner. And the work usually is completed in just one day. To receive assistance, the group considers an applicant's income, ability and overall need.

Among the nearly 250 Rebuilding Together volunteers is Brooke Steffes, a passionate, petite and powerful woman who has helped rebuild five to seven homes a year since 2004.

"I am a power tool user," Steffes says with a bit of a grin. "I grew up with a father who was a jack-of-all-trades. He was a carpenter and we grew up just fixing things. But when it comes to Rebuilding Together, I deal with the softer stuff."

That softer side comes from being a senior HR generalist for Montana-Dakota Utilities. Steffes' people skills have allowed her to bring a different perspective to the inspections process required by Rebuilding Together. When their team goes into an applicant's home to assess their needs, experts on the team look for structural, plumbing, electrical and construction needs. Most often, those experts are men. But as a woman, Steffes often sees things others don't.

"It's good to have a woman's perspective because men can be matter-of-fact and focused more on the project. As a woman, I think more about the person," Steffes says.

Steffes got involved in Rebuilding Together when her employer sent a company-wide email requesting volunteers; she moved from volunteer to co-captain, and eventually to vice president of the nonprofit's board.

Rebuilding Together is made up of a board of directors, multiple captains, one paid staff member and volunteers. Many local businesses encourage participation, including Montana-Dakota Utilities, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Wells Fargo, First Presbyterian and First Evangelical Free Churches, Knights of Columbus, BisMan Stilettos and Starion Financial. Most volunteers don't have construction skills and take on tasks such as scraping, painting, cleaning or raking. Skilled volunteers handle the construction.

"We generally hire out the electrical, roofing and plumbing to make sure it's up to code, and the contractor will back up their work," says Steffes. "The businesses we hire often end up really liking what we're doing and then provide discounts to us for their services."

Rebuilding Together mostly accepts monetary donations to help with their projects. Because the needs at each home are so unique and the group doesn't have a physical location to store things, they don't search out donations of specific products but rather work to secure grants so they have the funds available to purchase what they need for each home. The group also holds one fundraiser every March -- a themed bowling event and silent auction.

Reflecting on her involvement for the past 11 years, Steffes says the loneliness is what hits her. The people they help often just love the company and want to talk. And the needs are neverending.

"Community is an evolving cycle," says Steffes. "Sometimes you take and sometimes you receive. I may be on the receiving end someday. When I go into these homes and spend time with these people, it makes me wonder who's going to help me someday."

Rebuilding Together is accepting applications through Oct. 31, 2015. Learn more at or by calling 701-221-3232.

Lynae Hanson is an artist with a passion for graphic design, marketing, lively interiors, furniture construction, updating the outdated and transforming found objects. She is a wife, the mother of two grown children and two furry dogs as well as a gardener and assistant executive director for the North Dakota Safety Council.