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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 7, 2008

CLEAN UP
Marines help out on home front

Photo gallery: Marine Corps help refurbish publ

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Lance Cpl. James Tilley was among the Marines pitching in yesterday at the Punchbowl Homes public housing project.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Some 90 Marines took a break from weapons and combat training yesterday to pick up mops, paintbrushes, sponges and Spackle as they refurbished 30 vacant public housing units.

The Marines will be at it again today.

And they hope to have the 30 units ready by tonight.

"We're here to give back," said 1st Lt. Dan Rhodes, who helped coordinate the Marines' volunteer efforts yesterday and today. The Marines worked on units at the Pumehana, Makamae and Punchbowl Homes public housing projects in Honolulu. The units required basic maintenance and repairs from painting to waxing floors to heavy cleaning.

The Marines are the latest group to pitch in to repair vacant public housing units a major problem for the state Public Housing Authority. Of the 6,249 public housing units statewide, about 543 are vacant because they need repairs, according to March 31 figures. The number doesn't count units approved for demolition or otherwise taken out of the inventory.

Chad Taniguchi, public housing authority director, said the state is encouraging volunteer groups to refurbish vacant units in hopes of catching up with a backlog of repairs. The number of vacant units has gone down over the past few years, and Taniguchi hopes to have all the vacant apartments now empty ready for families by the end of the year.

"The help of the Marines in this case is really helpful," Taniguchi said. "Together with some of the nonprofits ... we're hoping to do more of this."

Aloha United Way helped plan the volunteer effort, after the Marines contacted the nonprofit looking to help the community in a big way.

"This provides something tangible that they can see at the end of the day," said Jody Shiroma Perreira, Aloha United Way vice president of marketing.

The group of Kane'ohe Marines, which is set to deploy to Iraq in August, also has other volunteer projects planned in May, including helping to sort donations at a shelter and building a playground at a preschool.

Along with giving back, the projects are meant to break negative stereotypes about Marines and get those deploying used to interacting with civilians. Another coordinator for the group, 2nd Lt. Mark Beaudette, said interacting with "locals" is just what the Marines will be doing in Iraq.

So the volunteer efforts, he said, are good practice.

The mood at the cleanup yesterday was light-hearted, as Marines shuffled between floors with mops, buckets and paintbrushes in hand.

"It feels good, helping and giving back to the community," said Lance Cpl. Zachary Harless, 23, who was doing paint touch-ups in a unit.

Sgt. Jose Juarez, who was painting a closet, nodded.

"It's a good project," said Juarez, also 23.

And residents at the public housing projects were happy for the assistance, saying they have seen units sitting vacant for months because there isn't enough manpower or money to address sometimes minor repairs.

Chong Choi, 61, lives at Punchbowl Homes on Captain Cook Avenue and said a unit near hers is vacant, even though it appears to need little more than a good paint job. With a smile, she said she was happy to see the Marines helping out and giving back.

"It's a good thing," she said.

Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.