Painting Bertha’s House

Bertha cooks lunch while volunteers scrape.

Bertha cooks lunch while volunteers scrape.

May 31 – June 20 Cabbagetown.

The incline was steep, very steep. A few of us craned our necks upward and contemplated the problem of the ascent before us. Oh yeah… it was awful steep. We decided to pawn the task off on someone else.

I sent a message to one of the Barn Raisers, “I have a special project for your gang. Do you think you can help us out?” Sure the Barn Raisers would be there, my Barn Raising friend told me, but he wasn’t sure their main go-to guy would be able to make it. No! We really neeeeed him. This was the person I was counting on. If anyone could do it, he could do it.

Project day came. An anxious hour passed before the Barn Raisers started to casually appear, one by one. Then around the corner he strode in, the go-to guy, the one who could do anything, the one with NO fear. Yes! I jumped up. We are saved! The project will be completed!

Two of the barn raisers went to look at the precipitous situation and before anyone knew it, without any questions or hesitations our guy had scaled the slope, slayed our quandary, conquered our dilemma, and was asking for paint. Yes! Our Cabbagetown neighbor and friend, Bertha, would get her home’s crowning touch of blue on her very steep camel back peak and our volunteer project to paint her house will truly be completed.

But how, perhaps you wonder, did we get to such drama? Well, it started on the high seas – no, no, let’s stop exaggerating – it started actually started on the low seas – of Key Biscayne in Miami Florida. This past winter, Greg and I were on Blue Wing contemplating our return to Cabbagetown for the summer. I had just been looking at FaceBook and something struck me about Bertha. We had known that she wanted her house painted for a while, but we also knew she couldn’t afford to have it done. I mentioned to Greg that I would like to at the very least help her with the worst of her house problems when we got back in a few months. That sounded good to him. A small project.

Our go-to guy on Bertha's camel back's steep peak.

Our go-to guy on Bertha’s camel back’s steep peak.

That next Sunday Greg was talking on the phone to his Cabbagetown painting partner, Paul Bracken, about work Paul was lining up for the summer. In the course of the conversation Paul brought up Bertha’s house. What an interesting coincidence! She had asked Paul for a quote to have it painted. But of course, the price was way out of her range, so Paul suggested that it could be done by a volunteer effort. A tad bigger project.

Once we returned to Cabbagetown in May, I stepped up to lead the Let’s Paint Bertha’s House project. I felt a little hesitant at first. How would people perceive this effort? I mean there are lots of people in the neighborhood who could use a coat or two of paint on their old millboards. Would anyone volunteer? Would there be money for supplies? Would all my friends hate me for not painting their houses?

I figured this project would be most successful if it was very organized, so I set about writing up a project plan of with volunteer dates, things we need to buy, things we need to borrow, and people whose expertise we could tap into. I talked to Bertha about offering services and premiums in order to solicit donations for supplies and paint. Then I presented it all on the social network Nextdoor. “You may not know Bertha,” I said in my post, “but you probably know her yellow Coca Cola house on Berean…” Immediately volunteers started signing up for workdays and donating money. The Cabbagetown Initiative, a neighborhood nonprofit, stepped forward to pay for all of the lumber to replace her rotten wood and provide us access to the Atlanta Tool Bank. Milltown Arms, a local tavern, offered to donate a keg for the volunteer days. Another Cabbagetown business owner, volunteered to provide hotdogs, hamburgers, and veggie burgers for the workers’ lunches. A donation came in from Panama. I posted on other social networks, Facebook and the Cabbagetown Yahoo group. People gave supplies. People donated food and drinks for our workdays. The owner of Bicycle Tours of Atlanta purchased $150 worth of paint for the project. Monetary donations kept flowing in. And tons of people showed up at Bertha’s each time I made a post about a new volunteer day, many she didn’t even know, ready to scrape, prime, caulk, paint, and infuse new life into an historic old Cabbagetown house and home to one of our long time neighbors.

The painting army at work.

The painting army at work.

The entire project was completed over three weeks with 5 volunteer paint days (Two 3 hour days and Three 6 hour days), a volunteer prep day to move Bertha’s gigantic Coca Cola cooler off her porch, and extra time put in by Paul and Greg to pressure wash the house and wrap up loose ends. Over 70 people contributed to this project either by donating money, volunteering to work, donating supplies and/or donating food and drink for the work days. And nearly $1000 was raised and spent on paint and other materials. The project was an amazing success.

Greg and I are so fortunate to be able to pursue our dreams and so lucky to have such an amazing neighborhood as Cabbagetown to support us. This chance to give back to this community and to work with so many friends and neighbors has added to an element to the Make Like An Ape Man story that we hope to continue as long as we keep returning to Cabbagetown and voyaging elsewhere.

To see lots more picture of this project, click here!

The before picture.

The before picture.

The after picture.

The after picture.

Can you spot the three Berthas?

Can you spot the three Berthas?

2 thoughts on “Painting Bertha’s House

  1. jo said:

    Remarkable writing Duawn.

  2. Rick Perera said:

    Such a delightful and uplifting story to read after a rather grim weekend. Kudos to you and all who accomplished this.

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