PEABODY — Charlene Cruz is a self-proclaimed talker. That's how she found out about North Shore Habitat for Humanity's Critical Repair: A Brush with Kindness program.

Her Peabody home's 19-year-old roof was covered in algae and moss. The shingles were curling, the case around the chimney was crumbling, and Cruz said she was prepared for leaks from rain. She spent seven years applying plastic to her windows to keep the heat from escaping, and none of them locked when closed. Twice, her foot went through the rotting wood on her deck.

So Cruz, 61, a lung cancer survivor, went to Peabody City Hall to ask if there was anybody who could help. She was directed to Habitat for Humanity.


"This is a unique project," said Gary Cowles, president of North Shore Habitat for Humanity's board of directors and a nine-year project volunteer. Unlike most Habitat projects, where new homes are built from the ground up, Cruz's house just needed repairs.

"The beauty of this kind of project," Cowles said, "is that you're allowing somebody to stay in the home they live in."

The new roof goes up on Charlene Cruz’s Peabody home.
The new roof goes up on Charlene Cruz’s Peabody home.John Tlumacki

For the project, about $10,000 came from a neighborhood revitalization grant funded by Peabody's Community Preservation Act account, while $20,000 worth of roofing and deck materials and windows was donated by Coastal Windows & Exteriors as part of its Raise the Roof program.

Stephanie Vanderbilt, the Beverly business's owner, said this is the third time Coastal has worked in partnership with North Shore Habitat, and the fourth roof it has donated.

Prior to the repair, so much heat was escaping from the home that Vanderbilt said it was "like taking your pocketbook and throwing it out the window."

"I'm a homeowner. I know what it's like to have high energy bills," Vanderbilt said. Her business, which she operates with her husband, David, has a strong commitment to community service because, as she sees it, "we are the community."


The employees of Coastal Windows and Exteriors worked with the Habitat team on the repairs, and the business provided lunch for the entire crew. Dessert was donated by Beverly's Half-Baked and Painted Pastry.

Later in the day, the team was joined by second-graders from the Welch Elementary School in Peabody. These students, after watching the repair work, participated in Vanderbilt's presentation on community service and sustainable, secure housing.

This combination is not new to Vanderbilt, who has participated in Habitat's Women Build and is a former teacher of hearing-impaired people in various North Shore communities. Today, she brings her interests of community service, teaching, and home repair together in her business, where she strives to educate customers about homeownership and donate to neighbors in need.

By the end of the day, Cruz's home was outfitted with a new deck and new roof and windows, which Vanderbilt said will lower Cruz's heating bills.

Cruz was thankful for the repairs. For the first time in years, she will not have to worry about her roof leaking, her windows not locking, or her deck caving in. She, her two dogs, and her bird will "be warm and cozy this winter," Vanderbilt said.

A group hug by volunteers before the work begins.
A group hug by volunteers before the work begins.John Tlumacki

Vanessa Nason can be reached at vanessa.nason@globe.com .