For the past two months, Doug Bolstad and a small crew of volunteers have started their Wednesdays and Saturdays at 5:30 a.m. on top of a roof.
A former Marine and mining engineer, Bolstad, 82, is most comfortable working with his hands, and regularly seeks out pro bono projects to keep himself busy.
“Hands-on is basically my family motto. Plus, it’s very gratifying,” he said.
“When you work with your hands, when you get out and do stuff, you get that good feeling like you’re accomplishing something, finally.”
Bolstad’s latest and largest project – a near complete renovation of a home in Montana Vista – has provided him with plenty of opportunities to get his hands dirty.
Working together with hammers and nails, lumber and roofing materials and an outpouring of support from the community, the group is hoping to make the home livable again for a mother and her daughter.
‘Walk the talk’
The project began as most of Bolstad’s do – with a simple post on Nextdoor, an app that connects neighbors with their neighborhood.
“About every six months or so, I was putting a little plug on there for pro bono work. If you knew of somebody who was really in need, let me know and I’ll see what I can do,” Bolstad said.
In April, he got a tip from a neighbor that led him to the doorstep of “Rita” and “Karen,” a mother and daughter living near Montana Vista.
At first, Bolstad said Rita and Karen – not their real names – were just looking for advice on home repairs. But when their 30-minute introduction turned into an afternoon of swapping stories and surveying the damage, it was clear their needs were greater.
On the outside, their roof was leaking and their porch was rotting. Inside, damage from the daughter’s ex-husband left most of the walls, windows and kitchen cabinets riddled with holes, Bolstad said.
Rita and Karen had also been facing Arizona’s notoriously hot summers with a broken air conditioner for the past five years.
All of this was compounded, Bolstad said, by the daughter’s rare and debilitating disease, which made it physically impossible for her to attend to many of the issues.
“After our conversation, it was just obvious they needed help, of any kind, and I just decided they were going to be my focus, right then and there,” Bolstad said.
“Lots of people have asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and I just say, ‘Isn’t it important to do something for others, and really walk the talk?’ If you’re going to talk about loving your neighbor, well then, what are you doing about it?”
Getting to work
After explaining the situation in another post on Nextdoor, Bolstad asked if anyone was interested in pitching in for repairs to get Rita and Karen’s home livable again. In a matter of days, he was flooded with responses from community members who wanted to help.
Jim Richards, who moved to Green Valley with his wife six months ago, was one of the early volunteers.
“I’ve done quite a few home remodels over the years, and I just enjoy it. When I found out these people needed help, I thought why not apply my skills somewhere where it’ll do somebody good?” Richards said.
Since working on the project, Richards says he’s been impressed by the “quality of people in Green Valley,” and it’s opened his eyes to the generosity of his new community.
Robert Noel, who also got involved after reading about the project on Nextdoor, has put his background in construction and knack for tackling “just about anything” to good use.
“With the way the world and the country is nowadays, it’s just nice to work together with other people. It’s just a good feeling,” Noel said.
And it’s not just time and labor being offered up. Since setting up a GoFundMe page to fund supplies for the project, the group received a number of community donations, including building materials and paints, kitchen cabinets, blinds, a new sink, stove, washing machine and a dishwasher.
After hearing about the project from Noel, David Murrieta, vice president of Oasis Air Conditioning and Heating in Green Valley, had his team install a mini split air conditioning system – a $6,000 value – at the house for free.
“It’s just record heat right now, and I felt this was something I could do to really help someone else. If I can help out, I’ll do it. That’s just how I was raised,” Murrieta said.
With the pandemic causing supply-chain issues and building material shortages, Bolstad said these community’s donations really made the project possible.
“But it’s not just the money, it’s the moral support that we have throughout the community, it’s very strong,” Bolstad said.
“People will admit they can’t do much, but they might say they can send a few dollars or bring us some sandwiches, and I think it reinforces what we all know – deep down we are a society that cares for each other,” he said.
‘Pay it forward’
Noel, Bolstad, Richards and their rotating crew of volunteers have continued to work on the house most weeks since beginning the renovations in early June.
Most recently, the team finished weatherproofing Rita and Karen’s home with new metal roofing, and will soon tackle the inside, Noel said.
To date, their fundraising campaign has raised about $7,495 of its $10,000 goal, which would have been enough to cover most of the renovations, had it not been for some recent monsoon activity.
High winds and heavy rains July 10 blew the roof off of the recently completed porch, and sent the team back to the drawing board.
“We were all disappointed but we will not let this get us down or be a setback,” Noel said. “Everything always happens for a reason and the show must go on!”
It’ll be at least another month of working on the house until their largest priorities are tackled, Noel said, though starting their work days at 5:30 a.m. might be a thing of the past.
“We’ve backed off a bit now, and we actually don’t start until 6 a.m. We got a lot of aches and pains, so we’re getting a little lazy,” Bolstad laughed.
Despite the physical toll, the volunteers say the appreciation and gratitude shown by the family, and the community at large, has made the endeavor worthwhile.
“The family is so appreciative of it all, and like I tell them, I’m just a neighbor. We’re just neighbors helping neighbors, that’s all,” Noel said.
Many people continue to ask Bolstad how he expects to be repaid for the work, but he maintains a simple message: pay it forward.
“Everybody has talents and abilities, and everybody can do something and treat somebody nice. Just pay it forward. I think that would make us the most happy.”