Ruth "Rusty" Meyer, 81, often jokes that she and her 81-year-old house are both going the way of old age.
Meyer, who has lived alone on Indianapolis' near-northeast side for the past 31 years, suffers from vision loss and poor mobility. Her home had serious structural and cleanliness issues that limited her quality of life. The Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD) took notice in May 2016 and issued her a citation.
That's where volunteers from NeighborLink Indianapolis came in.
After the MCPDH reached out to NeighborLink Indianapolis, professional tradesmen, church groups, businesses and kind-hearted individuals collectively volunteered for the next two months in home improvement, plumbing, maintenance and cleaning to helping Meyer stay in her home--all at no cost to her.
Meyer, who retired from AAA Travel after 40 years, is a keen, introverted woman with a love for art, classical music and history, especially Arthurian legends. She's maintained few friendships over the years, but she regularly goes grocery shopping once a month with a neighbor. She pays for groceries with her monthly social security paycheck, her only source of income.
Meyer said that she usually prefers the company of animals than people. She cares for several neighborhood cats, which she affectionately names.
Although Meyer maintains an independent lifestyle, her home was in a desperate situation. Faulty wiring caused a fire that ravaged the house, requiring the flooring be torn out to the subfloor. Meyer suffered a fall several years ago, and while she was in rehab she came home to find her house burglarized with broken windows.
Her floors and windows have since been repaired, but the house still needed improvements.
Plumbing, maintenance and repairs aside, Meyer had also accumulated enough possessions over the years to constitute a hoarding problem. Narrow corridors carved through the crowded house were the only way to get around.
While Meyer said she knows she had too many possessions, she said it is difficult to let go."When a person of my age has things taken from them, it's like they've lost a part of themselves," Meyer said. "You start to forget you who you are."
Meyer did not have a functional stove with which to cook, and she kept her food in a single mini-fridge. She kept her cat food in another mini-fridge that didn't work properly.
Since NeighborLink Indianapolis got involved with Meyer's case, volunteers managed to perform exterior and interior repairs to the house. Missing gutter pieces were replaced, and the guttering around her home was fixed. A sagging structural area above her front door was repaired so that the door could open and close. Her toilet has been replaced, and repairs to her bathroom have made it once again accessible. She's been given a microwave to cook with, and her cupboard is now full of canned foods.
The exterior of the house has been given a fresh coat of paint, and shrubbery cleared from the side of the home means utility meters can be accessed.
"Now the meter man can get an accurate reading of my meter instead of just making an estimate," Meyer said.
Nearly 20 volunteers helped Meyer clean her floors of possessions, and NeighborLink Indianapolis board member Jeanette Jefferis even spent evenings sitting down with Meyer to go through her collection to help her to decide what to part with.Meyer's home still could use some work. Improvements made thus far, however, have made an impact on Meyer's quality of living. New flooring in the kitchen, cleared clutter and methods of organizing plus a generally more walk-way friendly home have made a big difference in Meyer's ability to move around and care for her feline friends. She's also able to continue submitting artwork to the State Fair, which she has done for the past several years.
To get involved with projects helping Indianapolis residents like Meyer, visit NeighborLink Indianapolis' website to see open projects in need of volunteers. If you're short on time, consider making a donation to NeighborLink Indianapolis.