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(From left): Nicole Zeller, Emily Welch, Kim Bistrong, and Katie Moyer help make houses safe.

As a physical therapist at Penn Home Care and Hospice, Kim Bistrong cares for many patients in West Philadelphia and sometimes, during a visit, notices potential safety issues in their homes, for example, ripped carpeting that might be a trip or asthma hazard. They’re not major repairs but, for some house owners – many of whom have lived in these homes for decades – the cost is beyond their means.

Bistrong has tried to help some of her patients – for example, she purchased a chair riser to help a 99-year-old patient get up from her chair – but most fixes are not so quick. This is where her volunteer efforts with Rebuilding Together Philadelphia come in. The nonprofit organization, which was founded by students from Penn’s Wharton School in 1988, provides critical home repairs and other improvements for low-income homeowners to make houses safe and healthy to live in. Each year RTP does three “block builds,” in which hundreds of volunteers, neighbors, and homeowners do repairs in a targeted neighborhood over the course of two to three days. Although some repairs are small, others are major, such as putting in a new heating system. “They spend $10,000 to 20,000 on each home.”

Bistrong – along with coworkers from Penn Home Care – have participated in some block builds and it’s a win-win for both the homeowner and volunteer, she said. “They teach us how to make some of the repairs,” she said, for example, how to use a drill, put in molding or tear up an old rug and replace it with floating vinyl flooring which is less of a fall risk.

Bistrong would like to develop a partnership between Penn Medicine and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia. “If I see something unsafe in someone’s home, I can call a person to come and help,” she said. “It’s keeping patients safe in their homes and preventing readmissions. A grab bar costs $30. According to the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a broken hip costs on average $37,000 to treat!”

Her Penn Medicine CAREs grant will be used to purchase safety items – such as grab bars for bathrooms, stair railings, outdoor lighting, and flooring – for the RTP’s next block build, which was held last month. Bistrong is also hoping to get more volunteers from the Penn Home Care staff. “I’d like us involved in every build,” she said. “When you’re friends with colleagues, you’re better communicators and work better with them. And it’s fun hanging out together outside of work!”

To learn more about the Penn Medicine CAREs grant, go to


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