The scene Thursday on her block just off Lancaster Avenue was a roar of activity as contractors of every stripe, 1,000 volunteers and the homeowners themselves reconstructed porches, hung drywall, painted window frames, fished modern electrical wiring through 100-year-old plaster walls, and rebuilt gardens.
The Rebuilding Together "Build a Healthy Neighborhood" program had set up shop in Overbrook. By Saturday afternoon, the organization hopes to have vastly improved 30 houses and build a garden and new playground at the Overbrook Environmental Education Center around the corner on Lancaster Avenue.
Rebuilding Together is partnered with Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation, the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and other national and local groups for the project.
Carrie Rathman, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia executive director, explained that the project's goal is to see that homes are "restored to a healthy standard of living," at no cost to the homeowners.
"A lot of the homeowners here work three jobs to help make ends meet and they don't have any money left over to make repairs," said Janice Walker, a spokeswoman for the program.
Many are elderly and on fixed incomes, or like Bates, who is on disability.
"I could have never gotten the money on my own to do this work," said Bates, who would like to rent out her third floor to offset expenses but roof work and wall and ceilings repairs are necessary before that can happen.
Contractors who have been working on the houses generally for the last two weeks in preparation for the three-day blitz by volunteers charge the sponsors far less than the going rate.
Painting contractor Ed Hirst of Philadelphia, who was managing 20 La Salle University student volunteers at the house he was working on, said with bravado that he would charged just $4,000 for a "$9,000 job that I guarantee will last 60 to 70 years."
On the same twin, contractor Tybius Jordan of Philadelphia was supervising the complete reconstruction of a front porch, from roof and ceiling to columns down to the floor and railings.
"We are given budgets and we keep within them," he said as he watched professionals and volunteers work on the railings of pressure-treated lumber.
"I'm just trying to help. I want to be able to come back a year from now and see everything that I did well-maintained, looking like it did the day we finished."
Volunteers came from everywhere, from Atlanta to Boston.
Randie Wells, who is working with the AmeriCorps in post-Katrina New Orleans, heard about the project "and I decided to come back home."
Wells grew up on 56th Street, in the nearby Carroll Park neighborhood, "but I was always going through Overbrook on the train to school."
The chance to work on the playground at the environmental center brought Jessica McCleary, 24, of Cinamminson, and Odalis Orocho, 42, of Mount Holly over from the Lowe's store at Maple Shade.
"We just wanted to help out," said McCleary, "to help rebuild a neighborhood. I can't wait to see how the playground and the garden turn out."
"I usually do a lot of work for the cancer groups," said Orocho, a four-time survivor of the disease. "It is important that I do this."
Sarah Hall, 65, heard about the program and talked many of her neighbors into getting on board. There are income requirements, so some people didn't qualify, but most are elderly, unemployed or low-income and disabled.
Hall, the block captain, said her father, an electrician and plumber, took good care of the house until he died, but it has been a struggle since.
"These people are great," she said of the contractors and volunteers. "They have such good ideas.
“I had a sofa in the basement that I wanted to get rid of and my granddaughter and I couldn't move it." "They came in and sawed off the legs and threw it that Dumpster," she said. "Imagine that, a Dumpster for trash!"
Hall said she had watched Extreme Makeover and similar shows and wondered why "they never do any rowhouses," adding that when she learned about Rebuilding Together, "I called all my neighbors and told them we had to do this."
As she watched the volunteers tackling a window replacement project on her second floor, Hall's eyes filled with tears.
"This is a blessing," she said, "and you just don't get that many blessings."
Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, email@example.com or@alheavens at Twitter.