LINCOLN (AP) — A handyman program that helps senior citizens stay in their own homes has not changed a great deal since it began as a pilot program 42 years ago.
The handymen and handywomen go to the homes of senior citizens to fix window frames, paint doors, put light bulbs in high fixtures, pour concrete, replace rotted-out boards, mow lawns and unclog toilets.
They often stay for a cup of coffee and some conversation, a cheerful interlude for older people who don't have many visitors, just like they did when the program started in 1971 as one of the first in the country.
And quite often, the senior citizens send thank yous to the program director, just like they did four decades ago, before computers and email and tweeting.
People were very appreciative, Tim Howell, now retired, who managed the Home Handyman program soon after it began in the early 1970s, told the Lincoln Journal Star.
They still are.
“Thank you for a very nice service. You sent us a very, very good plumber,” said one handwritten note sent with a recent payment.
The private contractors make their own appointments and use their own tools. They get paid $12 an hour, but with the price of gas and the amount of running around town to get to jobs, most don't do it for the money, said Paul Dietz, who is retired from management at Goodyear.
The Friday before Christmas, Dietz repaired and adjusted some doors for an older Lincoln man.
It's important to have someone the elderly can trust to do little jobs, he said.
Called to paint a garage door, he discovered that it had not been installed or adjusted correctly. Eventually — probably after the warranty expired — it would have required maintenance, Dietz said. With his coaching, the woman called the installer, who came back and did the job correctly.
The handyman pilot program started under a five-year federal grant to help senior citizens stay in their own homes, Howell said.
It also gave retired men an opportunity to put their skills and knowledge to work.
It was so successful the city took it over after the grant ended. Today, more than 40 percent of its $158,900 annual budget comes from client payments and donations; federal, local and state tax dollars make up the rest.
Today, about 3,000 people are signed up; some use it just once a year, while others depend on it for a wide variety of tasks, said Carol Meyerhoff, who manages the program for Aging Partners, the local aging agency.
There are a few rules: People who use the program must be at least 60 and own their home or are required as renters to do the mowing. The program does not fix up rental property, and it doesn't paint entire homes. If a job is the kind a person would hire a contractor for, it's probably outside the program's scope, Meyerhoff said.
Last year, 30 to 35 handymen or handy couples did more than 3,200 hours of work, about half the normal volume because the drought meant far less mowing, said Meyerhoff.
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