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  • RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

    Chris and Dawn Grove talk about the home project while son Jax, 2, stands by to help out.

  • RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

    Chris Grove pauses during work on the east Sacramento home he, wife Dawn and volunteers are refurbishing in the spirit of an old-fashioned barn raising.

  • RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

    Chris Grove works on a water-damaged hardwood floor. The couple devote most weekends to the project.

  • RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

    Dawn Grove helps son Jax, age 2, do a little work on the front porch.

One old house, many helpers: Dawn and Chris Grove find they are blessed with friends and neighbors in this DIY project

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 - 2:49 pm

The white house with green trim on 58th Street near St. Mary's Catholic Church looks like a prime candidate for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

The hardwood floors are shot from water damage. Cracks line the ceiling. The whole electrical system probably needs replacing and the backyard is a neglected forest of overgrowth.

With a little luck and a whole lot of community support, Dawn and Chris Grove hope to make this east Sacramento house livable by Jan. 1. But it won't be easy, especially as hard times have left them with zero credit.

The Groves are instead channeling the spirit of Amish country in east Sacramento, hoping to transform the dilapidated house into home sweet home through a modern-day "barn raising." They've put the call out to neighbors and the wider community, getting help with everything from hauling trash to assessing the property and making interior repairs.

The Groves are also giving their barn raising a 21st-century twist: They're putting the call out for help and chronicling their project on a blog: http://58thstreetspectacle.blogspot.com.

"I've always been in love with the concept of barn raising, since I saw it on TV as a kid and thought it was just a wonderful thing," said Dawn Grove, 39. "I come from a tiny family, so I was always trying to pull in members of the community as my family. Community filled the hole for the large family I don't have."

Barn raisings, in which a community volunteers labor and tools to raise a building or barn, were typically seen in Amish communities in the 18th and 19th centuries. Habitat for Humanity's role in building affordable housing via volunteer labor also taps into this spirit.

The Groves have found help in the form of tool donations from a church friend and offers of free baby-sitting from neighbors on 58th Street. So far, the Groves have sunk about $3,000 into the renovation. Chris Grove, 38 and a cyclist on the Body Concepts race team, is selling one of his cherished road bikes on Craigslist to help raise funds. But they're still depending on help from friends and family, and even complete strangers, to help them raise this veritable barn.

"It's about doing what we can do to help when a family's in a situation," said Florence Claypoole, a friend of the Groves who has helped haul debris and clear space for repairs. "If everyone can contribute a little, I think it'll get done."

Dawn Grove grew up in this house, which is still owned by her parents but has been vacant for more than two years. At a recent yard sale to raise money for the project, she attached pictures of the home in better days to a posterboard: There she is riding a tire swing in the front yard, showing off a watermelon in the family garden, diving in a pile of autumn leaves.

"We moved here in the late 1970s," she said. "I have a deep emotional connection to this house, and especially this block. Everyone seems to come back."

The last few years have been financially draining for the couple, including costly custody battles. The Groves each have two children from previous marriages, and a 2-year-old son named Jax from their union. They've also weathered bankruptcy and the loss of a previous home in Roseville. Dawn Grove has been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, and consequently the family is relying on a single paycheck from her husband's job at Intel to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, as Dawn Grove's parents aged, the 945-square-foot house became increasingly neglected. It's been vacant, with her mom now in a wheelchair and unable to get up the house's front steps. Vandals and vagrants have also caused damage.

One of the first orders of business has been clearing the house to make way for new flooring. With help from friends and neighbors, the Groves have filled a 40-yard bin full of trash. At some point they'll need appliances, along with a heating and air conditioning system, though they're prepared to use room heaters in the interim.

They don't get much time to work on the house. Given Chris Grove's day job, they reserve weekends for the project.

"Whenever we find ourselves stymied in one part, we go down (from where they're living in Folsom) no matter what every weekend and find something else to do," said Dawn Grove. "That way we can always accomplish something and make the best use of our time out there."

The couple also need advice on things like getting the house up to code and dealing with the electrical and plumbing systems. The Groves received one break with Fatzer Appraisal Group, which specializes in east Sacramento houses. It appraised the house and property for a reduced rate.

In turn, the Groves offered heartfelt thanks and links to the Fatzer Appraisal Group's website on their blog.

"They have a lot of work to do, but it seems like they have a lot of support," said Justin Fatzer, president of the appraisal group. "Usually when a house is in that condition, most people tear it down. It can be fixed if people have the money to fix it. But this is a great way to build the town camaraderie, and they were very thankful, and it showed."

Some days, Dawn Grove fears they won't make it. She looks at the weathered floorboards and empty spaces where appliances should be, and feels the temptation to give up. In a perfect world, they'll get the house livable, move in, start rebuilding their credit and get a loan to finish all the needed improvements.

For now, they keep working. The Groves plan to host a community party and open house when the project is completed.

"What one person can't do alone, many people can come together and do," Dawn Grove said. "That's always in the back of my mind."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Chris Macias



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