The 125-year-old mansion that transformed into a beautiful home for family and travellers

Here at Workaway we now have an amazing 50,000+ opportunities and volunteer exchange projects available in many different parts of the world. From agricultural work, scuba diving, yoga retreats and most things in between, we are so proud to be associated with so many amazing hosts. So we are introducing a new feature to our blog, to help recognise what a difference cultural exchange can make to travellers and to hosts.
Going by the name of ‘Workaway Host of the Month’ we will reveal more of what it is like to be a host and let you into their routines and how their project or business have changed since opening their doors to you guys!

This month we chat to Melinda and Kevin from Philadelphia about their home preservation project!

Hey guys, we love your profile and photos! Can you tell us a little bit more about your home preservation project?
This a 125-year-old home. It was in extreme disrepair. No one wanted to take on the project and developers were planning to knock it down and make new homes or apartments. On a whim, we took a walk through and fell in love with the house. Despite the extremes; third story leaking to first story, crumbling plaster, termites, etc, we knew we could restore it to its grandeur. We also knew it would take 10-15 years on our schedules. We purchased the home and property in 2010. 

How long have you been involved in Workaway and how did you hear about us?
We started hosting with Workaway one year ago, September 2014.  Things were moving along from 2010-2013 when Melinda was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Work had to stop abruptly while Melinda went through multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation. We were not able to do much work on the home and fell behind. We knew we needed help. We thought there must be an internship program where people want to learn home restoration skills and who need a place to stay. After a bit of Googling, we found Workaway!

We are so glad you found us! So how many Workawayers have you hosted so far and what does a normal day look like for you?
We have had 12 Workawayers so far! With our day, it really depends on the time of year. From April-November, we are working outside. For example this year, we hand demolished a dilapidated carriage house (the remnants will be a used as an outdoor patio, a project for summer 2016!), as well as stripping, repairing rotted wood, priming and painting on the East side of the house. We also stripped and repaired several window frame units which are awaiting glass.

​​​​​​​During the winter months, we are working inside; re-plastering walls, stripping paint, refinishing wood, adding trim and mouldings, refinishing floors, etc.
What is the best thing about being a Workaway host?
We enjoy meeting people who are interested in history and feel passionate about old homes. It is nice to be with people who share the love! We are also in the City of Philadelphia and there is so much to see and do. We are glad that we are close to all that Philadelphia has to offer, so it’s easy for someone to work a few hours a day, and then spend the rest of the day downtown or at a nature reserve. There is so much to see and do in Philadelphia! We like being able to provide a ‘home base’ for people to enjoy the City of Brotherly Love.
What is the best thing you have learnt from a Workawayer?
Each person has had something different to offer, however, for Melinda, re-learning stamina has been valuable. Workawayers are extremely dedicated; working in hot, humid weather, or in a drafty house doesn’t sound like much, but she’s had trouble standing or moving her arms due to multiple breast cancer surgeries, it makes for a difficult day. Working with Workawayers has helped to slowly recover and rejoin the working world!

That’s amazing to hear! Can you tell us a little about how the house has improved since hosting travellers?
The appearance of the house has drastically improved. The house has gone from a property that should have been condemned to a fantastic ornamental beauty! Pedestrians stop by every day to complement the work. The home has gone from an eyesore to a majestic beauty.
Have you got any funny stories from your time hosting Workawayers?
Yes, one day our Workawayer, Simon, was chiseling slate tiles off of the carriage house when the handle detached from the chisel. The only thing we could find to temporarily fix it to get through the rest of the day was Hello Kitty duct tape! Simon taped it up and we all laughed at him on the roof with a Hello Kitty duct taped chisel!

Way-to- go Simon!!
And do you think culture exchange programmes like this are changing the way we travel?
Yes. Travel is so out of reach for people because of the costs of lodging and meals. Hostels are generally overcrowded and draw the younger population. People who are older and not of the traditional hostel experience, have a better opportunity to benefit from meeting like minded people while learning valuable skills that they can use for years to come.  Learning home improvement skills is something everyone will need at some point. We also think that by spending time on a Workaway assignment (2+ weeks), you are getting to know the people, the culture, the landscape, the sites, etc, vs. rushing through everything in 3 days because you’ve got a bus to catch to the next city. Those rushed trips quickly become blurs and you don’t take away much. 
Can you give us one bit of advice for all our Workawayers out there looking for a host?
Yes; carefully read the host profile and do not contact the host unless you meet the requirements. Have a range of dates ready, and once the dates are confirmed with a host, send a copy of your plane/bus ticket.  Many people make commitments and then change their minds, which causes other inquiring Workawayers to have been turned down, and the host has to start all over again.

Thanks so much to Melinda and Kevin for taking the time to talk to us and tell us about their amazing home restoration Workaway project!
We can’t wait to see the final pictures! Keep going guys!

Do you want to be our next WA Host of the month? We are always on the look out for hosts who have a great story to tell! Email us and you could be in our next feature!

PennsylvaniaAmericaUSAPhiladelphiarestorationhomevolunteerscommunityhospitalityhost of the monthexchangecultureworkawaylearningadvice

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