Volunteers Display Responsibility Of Liberty At Thomas Paine House

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — One of these days, I will catch Jim Killoran sitting behind a desk, but not on this July morning. Today, he is ankle-deep in a creek, clearing rocks and cutting back undergrowth, just feet from a modest home that helped birth a nation.

And it’s a good thing the President of the Fuller Center of Greater New York chose the creek bed to wage war on the brush slowing drainage — grass isn’t growing under the feet of the hundreds of volunteers who come from around the world to help protect and restore a national treasure tucked away in an otherwise quiet New Rochelle neighborhood.

As Killoran hands his garden shears to a volunteer from St. Helena, California, and deftly clambers up from the creek, it’s hard to not wonder how he finds time to coordinate this many people (busily constructing, painting, power-washing, digging and even chopping wood) in such a way that there are no idle hands in sight.

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But, in fact, in addition to decades of experience getting large groups of volunteers pulling in the same direction, he has help from a core group of expert tradesmen, business leaders and community organizers.

Also, this date has been circled on the whiteboard in the Fuller Center’s New Rochelle headquarters for weeks.

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“Every year, Evercore sends us a group of volunteers — they are fantastic,” Killoran explained. “In past years, they have helped put people in homes of their own and helped fix flood damage. This year, with it being so close to the Fourth, I wanted to do something a little different.”

Killoran setting a group a dedicated volunteers to work at the historic home of one our most influential forefathers seemed a natural choice. He noted that Paine’s writings that helped spark a revolution, fit hand in hand with the Fuller Center’s mission of helping everyone to find dignity in where they live, and coming to the aid of neighbors in need, rather than simply being content with the status quo.

He feels personally invested in making sure these lessons remain accessible to future generations.

“During Ida, I saw this whole street and cottage under water, and the creek filling up with stones and debris,” Killoran said. “What better way to mark America’s birthday than by helping to preserve this special place so that people from all over the country can see these landmarks?”

This day of service is special among the Evercore volunteers who partner with charitable organizations in the New York City area to give back through time and donations to help revitalize parks and community centers, collecting coats and raising funds for not-for-profits. Many admitted to having visited the historic site before.

“It’s amazing to see how much we’ve accomplished here in such a short amount of time,” one of the volunteers, who hails from Houston, said. “It beats being in an office. I hope I can take kids of my own here someday.”

As Killoran walks through the worksites at the Thomas Paine cottage, the nearby museum and the New Rochelle Girl Scout House, he offers tips on brush strokes to painters, encourages a crew efficiently sorting and moving lumber, and stops for a moment to help troubleshoot a problem with the power washer.

But, he also makes a point to reflect on the message of Thomas Paine, whose legacy and message everyone here is working so hard to enshrine.

“As we repair a simple home where Paine lived, it’s a clarion Fourth of July call to help rebuild the American dream of home ownership,” Killoran would later say. “Here and throughout the country, with its ‘Common Sense’ that all should go to bed in a simple decent home.”

In the meantime, the folks at the Fuller Center will go on building that “revolution,” one house at time, and one family displaced by disaster at a time, all the while harnessing the will, knowhow and dreams of its volunteers for something brighter tomorrow.

About The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York City:

The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York City is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to eradicate poverty housing by promoting partnerships with individuals and community groups to build and rehabilitate homes for people in need. For more information about The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York City, please visit their website at www.fullercenterny.org.

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