By Cecilla Chan, GSN Managing Editor

A Gilbert nonprofit is looking for helping hands and open wallets for its upcoming community project to fix up homes for those who can’t do it themselves.

Gilbert Cares’ annual character-building project is in memory of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday Jan. 21 is a national holiday.

“We’ve done a total of 126 homes for seniors, vets, disabled folks, at-risk single moms, basically anyone who needs it,” said Paul Heartquist, executive director of the all-volunteer group. “We paint the exteriors and do landscaping, but then if anything else is needed in the home we try to get professional help to do it.

“We need folks who can do home repairs like plumbing. The big need right now is roofing repairs, what everyday-volunteers can’t do.”

For the project, volunteers will work on seven homes – two in Gilbert, two in Chandler, two in Mesa and one in Queen Creek.

Most of the homes will get a new exterior coat of paint and landscaping.

“It literally will take one day, eight hours,” Heartquist said of the volunteer work. “They go in the morning to tape, paint and are done by dinner time.”

The Dr. Martin Luther King  Jr. Character Building Project will stretch out for a week, Jan. 19-26 to provide flexibility for volunteers.

One home will require more extensive work.

“We have a contractor going to a modular home, so they are going to first level it and then fix the windows and doors that don’t close properly because it’s not leveled,” Heartquist said. “That home will be painted and maybe some interior painting will be done on that home.”

Gilbert Cares was founded in 1996 and incorporated as a nonprofit in 1999. The nonprofit not only helps those in need but provides community service opportunities for youth groups, service clubs, companies and churches.

Gilbert Cares does not verify the income of those who ask for help.

“We have been burned maybe twice in the last 24 years,” Heartquist said. “Most people have legitimate needs.”

The nonprofit has been getting fewer calls from Gilbert residents over the years – which Heartquist attributed to the group having fixed most of the homes in town that needed help.

The group has expanded its reach beyond the East Valley and into South Phoenix.

Its largest project in South Phoenix was two years ago when 70 volunteers of mostly students and some counselors and teachers from Camp Verde High School worked on 16 homes, Heartquist said.

“It was mostly painting and landscaping,” he noted.

Gilbert Cares also hosts a Veteran Family Appreciation Project, one in May and one in November, where volunteers work on the homes of veterans and first-responders. The group also will do urgent repairs for homeowners.

The group’s work though can’t be done without support from the community, said Heartquist, who is frequently on the phone trying to get companies to volunteer their time and provide in-kind contributions.

“Sometimes I have to say, ‘we can’t do it,’ more than I can say, ‘would you like your exterior painted?’” he said.