- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

LEWISTON, Minn. (AP) - Ernie needed a fence.

Zach Roberton’s new service dog - a then 3-year-old golden retriever - came to the family to help Roberton, an Army veteran who served from 2004 to 2010, deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, the Post-Bulletin (https://bit.ly/2lIdXSq ) reported. Despite taking the canine helper for frequent walks, it was apparent the dog just occasionally needed a safe space to run.

So Roberton and his wife, Valerie, began looking at getting a fence.

“We spoke to several contractors,” Zach said. “They said it was close to $5,000.”

That was a little out of their price range. So the couple began looking for any groups that might help veterans with outdoor home projects, and they came across Winona-Fillmore Habitat for Humanity’s home rehabilitation program, A Brush With Kindness, which helps low-income homeowners by offering exterior home improvements.

Valerie said she started making calls and filling out paperwork last spring, and the family - the Robertons have two daughters as well - got their new fence last summer.

That, said Amanda Hedlund, the new executive director for the two-county Habitat for Humanity organization, was one of 25 A Brush with Kindness projects the Winona-Fillmore group completed in 2016. She said the goal for 2017 is 30 with a hope of extending that to 40 projects.

“Last year, we did projects from July through September,” she said. “We’re hoping to start a little earlier this year.”

Habitat for Humanity construction coordinator John Corcoran said the program is designed to help with specific projects that help with a need - like a fence for a service dog for a veteran - or needed roof repairs, wheelchair access ramps and other small exterior repairs.

“We are doing projects that are critical home repairs,” he said.

For example, a homeowner might get a letter from their insurance company stating that the roof needs to be reshingled or the coverage will be dropped. In that instance, Hedlund said, in would step Habitat for Humanity with its remodeling program.

For the Robertons, that meant about 10 volunteers from a church group who spent four days in early June building a fence for Ernie and a new service dog named Riley being trained by Valerie. The fence means not putting the dogs on long tethers in the back yard, which Zach said is frowned upon by Helping Paws, the Hopkins-based organization from which Ernie came.

The fence, which encloses most of the Robertons’ backyard, was put up by volunteers, but is being paid for by the family.

“We provide free labor,” Hedlund said. “The people (getting the remodel) participate and pay for the materials.”

Some projects come with some materials donated, Hedlund said, and often groups that volunteer to do labor - church groups, businesses, schools or just individuals looking to help out - will make some financial contribution to Habitat for Humanity.

“The group that came here was so amazing,” Zach said. “After they were done, they said a prayer and blessed the fence.”

The fence has truly been a blessing, Valerie said. “Not only are Ernie and Riley’s lives better, our kids’ lives are better,” she said, pointing to busy Fremont Street in front of the house. “We have a yard. We can let them out the back to play and know they’re safe.”

Hedlund said the organization is starting to accept applications for those 30 or 40 projects for the coming summer. And, of course, she and Corcoran are looking for volunteers to help with those projects. One of those applications, the Robertons said, would be them, looking to have the fence painted or stained.

“We’re really thankful to A Brush With Kindness for guiding us through this,” Valerie said.


Information from: Post-Bulletin, https://www.postbulletin.com

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