Amy Altenbern—Rebuilding a Community One House at a Time

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N2013_05_01_009NEIGHAt first glance, hiring a new executive director for an organization that repairs houses who has no background in construction, might seem an odd fit. But when Amy Altenbern took over the reigns as executive director of Rebuild Together Aurora (RTA) in 2011, her master’s degree in clinical psychology and community mental health, combined with her skill set comprised of seemingly unrelated jobs, (project manager, mental health therapist and a church ministry director) couldn’t have been more perfect. Today, a year and half into the job, she can talk about plum lines and butt joints with the best of them. However, Altenbern also knows that the focus isn’t really about repairing houses—it’s about repairing people and communities.

Rebuilding Together

Rebuilding Together is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization that provides free, volunteer-based home repairs, accessibility modifications, and neighborhood revitalization. It has built up quite a reputation in its ongoing effort to provide safe and healthy housing for low-income homeowners, seniors, homeowners with young children, and those with disabilities. Every dollar donated to RTA translates into approximately $4 to $8 worth of free home repairs, with an average cost of a project estimated around $5,000. Combine that with the helping hands of hundreds of volunteers over the past 20 years, the city of Aurora has seen more than 600 homes repaired and their family’s lives changed for the better.

Making a Difference

“Volunteers do something that makes such an impact in a personal way,” Alternbern explains. “You get to see and know the individuals we serve and that they’re people just like you and me who have had to work hard to buy a home and now struggle with ‘Do we have coats that are warm, or do we get a bathroom that makes Grandma safe so she can shower without falling?’ So we have the opportunity to bless both sides of the equation and RTA gets to stand in the middle and make those connections. Helping people is what I really enjoy,” said Alternbern.

In February, nearly 1,000 volunteers worked on RTA’s first Community Block Build, a project designed to help revitalize Aurora’s Pattersonville neighborhood. In a matter of a few days, the work was completed. In the process, the project helped build relationships, increase property values and instill pride and inspiration to both those who live there and those who worked there.

A Personal Touch

If pressed for an answer, Altenbern admits that her personal favorite project is the Safe at Home program that focuses year round on senior citizens and those with disabilities—a need that’s estimated to grow—to install such things as grab bars, wheelchair ramps, proper flooring and more.

“We had a dear, sweet woman in a wheelchair with a muscular disease whose wheelchair lift had broken in her house and she had no way to pay to fix it,” Altenbern recalls of one recent program beneficiary. “She heard about us and we put in a new lift and only then found out that she had not been out of her home in over a year because just to go to the store hurt too much for her to be lifted out of her chair and carried. I wish she had known about us sooner even though we’ve been around for 20 years!”

RTA and its volunteer base are growing. Whether it is an individual willing to help pass out lunches, someone wanting to donate money, a tradesperson wanting to lend their skills, or a church or corporate group wanting to sponsor a project, there is a role for everyone to play at Rebuilding Together Aurora.

For more information on RTA, visit, or call 630.585.7510.