For almost 20 years, members of St. Louis Local 1 have volunteered their time and skills to repair the homes of their low-income neighbors, and while the coronavirus put a pause on their efforts last year, they were out in full force this spring.
|Local 1 members provided all types of repairs, from lighting fixtures to service changes, some on 100-year-old homes.
“It’s a feel-good day,” said Local 1 Financial Secretary Dave Roth, who has been heading up the effort for the last 10 years. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to help your neighbors in need.”
On a rainy Saturday in April, some 150 journeymen and apprentices, along with 22 signatory contractors, came out and teamed up to repair 15 homes in the St. Louis area. The effort is part of the work of the Electrical Connection, a partnership between the flagship IBEW local and the National Electrical Contractors Association. In collaboration with local nonprofit Rebuilding Together St. Louis, members provided much-needed repairs to the homes of residents including the disabled and the elderly, as well as veterans.
“While everyone has struggled during the pandemic with unprecedented challenges, it has been especially hard for those who do not have the means or ability to make home repairs themselves,” said Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs to area publication Construction Forum. “Our workforce and contractors believe it’s important to help stabilize lives and communities, especially after such a challenging year.”
For the apprentices who participate, they not only get to log some community service hours, they also get an education in working on what can be 100-year-old homes with outdated electrical wiring.
“Some of these homes still have old knob-and-tube wiring, which dates back to the turn of the last century,” Roth said. “It’s not something they’re likely to see anywhere else in the field.”
Another thing the volunteers get is the very real satisfaction of helping a person in need. A lot of the work that Local 1 members do is commercial, or it’s work on new homes. While rewarding in itself, it doesn’t necessarily come with the benefit of helping someone who may be on a fixed income or otherwise unable to afford the proper repairs: someone who could really use the help and might not get it otherwise.
“The people are really grateful. It’s incredibly rewarding when you see someone’s face light up after you’ve fixed their ceiling fan and they can finally feel that air on their face,” Roth said. “That personal connection isn’t something our members always get in the field. You don’t get to touch the hearts of people in stress. These volunteer days are a benefit for our members as much as the people we’re helping.”
Repairs included installing new light fixtures, ceiling fans, switches, security and porch lights, and where needed, service changes and new lines.
“There’s really nothing we won’t tackle,” Roth said. “We’ll go to the bitter end.”
Over the years, Local 1 and its signatories have provided over $800,000 worth of supplies and helped more than 500 families, reported local news station Fox 2, who came out to cover the event.
“It’s good to see why we do what we do … keeping people safe, lighting up the neighborhood,” J. West Electrical owner Sabrina Wesfall told Fox 2.
Roth says much of the work members end up doing is fixing the subpar work of the nonunion contractors who came before them.
“People have done some very dangerous things to people’s homes,” Roth said. “They’re cutting and splicing old wires and they don’t know what they’re doing. In a way, we kind of get to show off that day by coming in and bringing everything up to code. We can show people what we’re all about, and how we’re a step above.”
The annual volunteer day often brings out community leaders as well, including the mayor of St. Louis. For Local 1 though, it’s all part of their year-round volunteer efforts. Members also work with churches, food pantries and wire all the Habitat for Humanity homes in the area.
“Local 1 makes giving back to our community a priority,” said Business Representative Chris Clermont, who also helped with this year’s efforts. “Rebuilding Together is just one of the many programs we’re involved in that supports our communities.”
Even the random person who calls the local, possibly from seeing members out in the community doing volunteer work, can count on help. Sometimes the Electrical Connection will pay for a journeyman who’s between jobs to help. Sometimes it’s Roth himself, like the time he helped a retired ironworker who had fallen on hard times and lost power.
“It stole my heart. I kept picturing that being my dad,” Roth said. “I told him, ‘you’ll have power before I leave here.’ And he did. He got his heat back.”
It’s that sense of community mixed with the ability to perform such an essential service that motivates so many members like Roth.
“It’s kind of a treat to have a skill that provides so much to others. There’s nothing better,” Roth said. “Sometimes all you need is a pair of electrical pliers and a screwdriver, and you can change a person’s life.”