Gloria’s Gladiators lend a helping hand

Cathy Free

THE WASHINGTON POST – Gloria Scott decided it was time to call an electrician in early August after she flipped on a light switch in her kitchen and sparks flew out of an overhead fixture, tripping her circuit breaker.

“My house was in such disrepair – I knew it was bad and I thought I’d be spending some time in darkness,” she said.

Electrician John Kinney fixed the problem and got her lights working again. But when he returned to his own home that weekend, he said he couldn’t stop thinking about Scott, 72, living with her dog in her dilapidated house in Woburn, Massachusetts, a suburban working-class community about 12 miles outside of Boston.

“She reminded me of my nana, who passed away 10 years ago,” said Kinney, 37, who runs Kinney Electric.

“It made me sad to think of her sitting alone in a house that needed so many repairs,” he said. “Her wiring was in bad shape and there were extension cords everywhere. I really worried about her safety.”

The following day, Kinney returned to Scott’s home with an offer:

“I have a lot of friends – how about if I put together a group to come over and help you fix things up around here,” he recalled telling her. “There will be no cost to you whatsoever.”

Scott agreed, Kinney said, so that afternoon, he posted about her on his Facebook page and soon had two dozen volunteers lined up.

Gloria Scott and ‘Gloria’s Gladiators’ members. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
John Kinney takes a lunch break with some of his volunteers in Woburn

While cleaning up Scott’s yard and organising things inside her house, he and the rest of the crew noticed that she had no hot water coming out of her faucets because of faulty plumbing. “The hot water hadn’t been working for months,” he said.

Kinney also discovered that her kitchen sink was broken, the ceilings were full of holes, the back porch had fallen in and the house needed new rain gutters, drywall and paint.

He learned that Scott moved into the two-bedroom, one-bath home in the 1960s with her parents after her marriage ended. She worked as an office assistant and later retired. She had fallen behind on repairs after both parents died about a decade ago, he said.

It was then that Kinney decided to start a new Facebook page called ‘A Nice Old Lady Needs Help’ and raise funds to tackle all of the repairs. In less than a month, nearly USD115,000 was raised, he said, and the campaign now has a new name, ‘Gloria’s Gladiators’.

“We were hoping to inspire others and that’s exactly what is happening,” said Kinney, noting that the Gloria’s Gladiators group now has over 15,000 members – many of whom were inspired by Scott’s story to begin doing free home repairs in their own neighbourhoods.

“It’s really lifting people up, so I want to keep the good work going,” Kinney said. “Right now, this is bigger than me.”

‘Gladiators’ from coast to coast are now posting about their own chain-reaction volunteer efforts and acts of kindness on Kinney’s group page:

“I live in South Carolina but would love to provide food for you wonderful people,” one woman wrote. “Is there a schedule? How many would I need to feed? I was thinking I could contact a local restaurant to have it delivered. You are restoring my faith in humanity!”

A man from South Texas said, “I’m an expert on home foundation repairs and would like to start a new (Gloria’s Gladiators) chapter over here. I am offering my services to those that are not fortunate enough to get it done by themselves.”

A woman in Fresno, California, wrote that Kinney’s kindness movement made her think about her former neighbour. “This Sunday I arrived at her house with a huge bouquet of multicoloured roses and Belgium chocolates to celebrate her 82nd birthday. Thank you for helping Gloria.”

The help at Scott’s home includes a rotating crew of landscapers, plumbers, carpenters and brick layers who are completely remodelling her house, Kinney said, with a goal of having everything finished by the end of November.

Businesses in the community have contributed building supplies, while people without construction experience have pitched in to keep crews fed, he said.

Cathy Bryant, 63, is among those who have dropped off sandwiches and drinks, and she’s now stitching a quilt for Scott to help keep her cosy this winter.

“I asked everybody who’s pitching in to give me a T-shirt with their business logo on it, and I’m going to sew them all together,” Bryant said. “This has been a heart-warming experience for the whole town.”

Victor Oliveira, owner of VCO Landscaping, said he was excited to redesign Scott’s front and back yards after he read about her on Facebook. “I knew I had to be a part of this,” he said. “I dropped by one Sunday and told the guys who were there to put me to work.”

Oliveria brought in a crew of 10 to lay new sod, build a patio and plant shrubs and flowers. “Gloria’s in love with what we’ve done – she can’t stop smiling,” he said. “And that really brings it all home to me.”

“It’s a great feeling to know that she’s going to now live in a clean and safe house,” added Rick Caillouette, 58, a carpenter who volunteered to be the project manager for Scott’s remodel.

“Gloria’s in seventh heaven and seems at a loss for words about what we’re doing,” he said. “She’s gone from living alone to having a bunch of new friends.”

Scott, who has been on her own for most of her life, said that she had given up on the idea of having a house “where everything works” because she couldn’t afford to pay for repairs.

“It’s extremely hard to even buy groceries every week,” she said.

“I’ve always tried to see the glass half-full, but lately, I’ve really had a hard time.” She said she tends to be a private person and feels uncomfortable talking about her personal life and struggles.

When Kinney knocked on her door several days after fixing her faulty light switch, Kinney said she felt so thankful for his offer to help that she was speechless.

“If John Kinney hadn’t come into my life, I’d pretty much still be living in darkness,” she said.

“You can’t imagine what it’s like unless you’ve gone through it.”

“I can’t believe that all of these volunteers keep showing up day after day to help me,” Scott said. “I wish that I could think of something to do for them. They’re an incredible band of brothers.”

Kinney said he’s thankful for the opportunity to repair Scott’s home, but there is something else that has also brought him joy. “We’ve opened up Gloria’s world,” he said. “Now, I hope we can do the same for all of the other Glorias out there. Nobody should have to go through life alone.”