On Saturday, April 29th, Rebuilding Together Greater Newport will assist local families whose homes are in need of repair. One of the recipients in this year’s program is a family in Newport’s Fifth Ward living in an old Sears home.
The Brennan family was similarly helped last summer by the No Roof Left Behind program spearheaded by Sean Napolitano and A-1 Roofing and Construction, with supplies provided by Riverhead Building Supply and GAF Roofing Shingles. Now, they are benefitting from Rebuilding Together in a program that will help make necessary repairs on the rest of their home, with the help of dozens of volunteers, local contractors, A-1 Dumpster Service, Salve Regina University, Lowes, and the Newport County Board of Realtors.
Rebuilding Together is a national organization that assists low income families with repairs to their homes. Rebuilding Together Greater Newport is committed to providing safe and healthy homes for every person on Aquidneck Island. Susan McCoy is the chair of the Board of Directors for the Greater Newport chapter. For more information about Rebuilding Together Greater Newport, please visit their web site www.RebuildingNewport.org or contact Susan McCoy at Susan@RebuildingNewport.org
The Brennan family is very excited to receive the assistance from Rebuilding Together. John and Michelle share their home with their daughter, Bailey, and their dog, Chewbacca. John also has two adult children, Michael, who works with group home residents in Coventry, and Mackenzie, a student at Bridgewater State University, where she recently received a grant to study the impact of memes on politics.
Bailey is a fourth grade student at Pell Elementary School where she is a member of the Pell Student Council. She enjoys reading, history, math, and violin. Michelle works part time for her brother, Dr. Kevin Donovan at Aquidneck Chiropractic and also is the proprietor of Knitting Needles, a local yarn store on Lower Thames. Her father, Chaz Donovan, is a member of the Hibernians of Newport and a former Grand Marshal in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. John is an actor who has worked at the Newport Playhouse and at the Firehouse Theatre. He is a tour guide for the Ghost Tours of Newport and the author of Ghosts of Newport. He also continues to work on his next book, a collection of local love stories. John worked as a pharmacy technician at CVS on Bellevue Avenue before becoming disabled. Their dog, Chewie, is blind.
John has been unable to properly maintain their home since becoming ill with meningitis in 2013. When he got meningitis again in 2015, doctors discovered that he had a large hole in the base of his skull caused by a botched sinus surgery in 1997. The hole resulted in the loss of brain tissue and fluids that caused multiple neurological issues over the years. In 2015, John underwent surgery to push the brain back into his skull and seal the hole. The surgery was a complete success, but the repeated brain injuries from impacts and illness left John with vertigo and other challenges that prevent him from completing many of the needed repairs and maintenance chores required on the old house.
Michelle’s father was born and raised in Newport, and moved back to his hometown in the 1970s. He purchased a home less than a block from his parent’s home in the Fifth Ward. After getting her degree in textiles and theater costuming from URI, Michelle worked as a costumer at theaters before returning to Newport herself to be closer to family. When her parents moved into her grandparents’ home to care for them in the 1980s, Michelle bought the house. She and John met while performing together at the Newport Playhouse in the 1990s and were finally married in 2007. Michelle is currently recovering from a broken foot that she got while taking John to the ER after one of his falls.
The house dates to about 1892. It was ordered from the Sears Catalog and shipped to its current location by train, with a shipping weight of 25 tons. At the time, railroad tracks extended along what is today Wellington Avenue and Newport Harbor was larger than it is today. King Park and Spencer Park (located between Clinton St. and Marchant St.) were initially part of Newport Harbor that was filled in with gravel in about 1900. Today, there is a small lot that was the original Harbormaster House until then, as homes on Houston Avenue opened to the inlet on Newport Harbor that is now Spencer Park.
Now, as the home approaches 125 years, it is in need of many repairs that are being performed by Rebuilding Together. It survived flooding to a depth of four feet during Hurricane Sandy and ten feet during the Hurricane of ’38, along with over a century of additions and changes, wear and tear. Rebuilding Together is working to remove growth along the exterior walls, repair some siding, ceilings, and windows, repair the porch, and make the home safer. They are also giving Bailey’s bedroom a wonderful makeover.
In keeping with the national program, the work will be done on Saturday, April 29th. The Brennan family hopes that they can help shine a spotlight on their benefactors on that day. The hard work and generosity of the volunteers and sponsors is an amazing reflection on the wonderful community here in Newport. Each year, volunteers work hard to make Newport a safer, happier place to live and the Brennans hope to give them the recognition that will support them in coming years and coming projects.
“People are often ashamed to admit that they are getting assistance,” John Brennan has said, “I am grateful to have survived my ordeal. My brain damage gives me challenges to meet every day, and with help from my family, friends, and community, I get up more often than I fall down. I am so grateful to the people who are helping us to live in a safer, more comfortable, more pleasant home. Unfortunately, it’s just not a job I could tackle any longer. If there’s one thing my condition has taught me, it is to be unashamed to ask for help. I am overjoyed at how many people are offering us the help we need.”