A knock on your door promising free home improvements may sound too good to be true, but for some Prairie Township residents, it is the real deal.

Saturday, May 5, will be a day of revitalization and improvement for more than a dozen homes in the Little Farms neighborhood north of Broad Street and East of Hilliard Rome Road.

Prairie Township has partnered with the central Ohio nonprofit organization Rebuilding Together, with an aim toward improving safety and keeping seniors in their homes.

Before hundreds of volunteers and contractors can descend on the neighborhood, there is extensive work that must be done, according to Julie Smith, executive director of Rebuilding Together.

Canvassers are going door-to-door and the township recently mailed a letter to residents detailing the partnership. Once applications are received, Smith said Rebuilding Together will perform a scope-of-work review at each home to prioritize projects.

Since 2013, Rebuilding Together, 2771 E. Fourth Ave., Columbus, has initiated similar programs in other communities, including Whitehall, she said. Often, local governments start their own initiatives after the Rebuilding Together program ends, Smith said.

The Prairie Township partnership is expected to run for three years, she said.

Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker said officials see the partnership as a learning opportunity for modeling future programs.

"We would like to see this initiative take root in the community once our partners are done with their time in the area," he said.

Trustees have approved $50,000 in funding for the project, with $30,000 of that aimed at making exterior improvements, Hatmaker said.

The work will focus on safety, quality-of-life issues and increasing home values, he said. For example, Rebuilding Together often takes on projects to improve mobility, such as the installation of ramps and lifts. Other projects could include repairs to railings, windows and roofing; or exterior work such as landscaping, painting and dealing with drainage problems.

"We focus a lot of our energy on things like fall-prevention. We want people to be safe in their home -- that way, they can age in place the way they want to," Smith said.

"We're walking away having made someone's life a little easier," she said. "We help people help themselves. We either help people fish -- so to speak -- or we teach them how."

Smith said most of the work will be done by volunteers and overseen by skilled laborers and contractors who donate their time. Over the course of the program, Smith said Rebuilding Together estimates it will donate at least $400,000 worth of labor and materials to Prairie Township.

"We hope we're leaving them with some resources," she said. "When you go in with 300 or 400 volunteers, it makes a difference -- and our volunteers are phenomenal."

Smith grew up in the neighborhood, in a home on Lawrence Avenue, and said the project will be personal for her. Most of the homes in the Little Farms area were built between the 1920s and the 1940s and a high percentage of them are owned by senior citizens, she said.

"It's going to be really cool to get to go home for three years," Smith said. "It's a great way to work in an area that doesn't get a lot of attention. The work is often pretty intensive."

In addition to the home improvement projects, Rebuilding Together also will distribute safety kits to 100 households, with items such as an emergency flashlight and weather stripping.

"The kits contain about $100 worth of really cool stuff that will help make your home safer," Smith said.

During the May 5 event, volunteers also will clean up litter, remove graffiti and educate residents about the programs available through Rebuilding Together, including its 7,000-square-foot tool library, which is open to anyone in Franklin County on a sliding-scale fee.

Eligibility for help is income-based. Homes must be owner-occupied and seniors are given priority.

Those interested in volunteering must be 14 or older and must apply online at rtcentralohio.org /volunteers/.

Those interested in applying for the program can start an application online at rtcentralohio.org or call Rebuilding Together to speak to a housing specialist at 614-258-6392.

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