Amid noise and busy do-it-yourselfers, Bobby Hanks looked on in wonder as a small army of volunteers teamed through the dilapidated Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 97 on South Union Avenue.
They were ripping out a low ceiling to replace crumbling acoustic tiles, installing vinyl flooring in the kitchen, painting walls, picking up trash outside and much more.
"It's just lipstick," said Hanks, 68. "Really, we need a new building. We just keep patching over patches. But this will do for now."
The VFW is launching a capital campaign to raise $500,000 for a new building, but it can't raise the money without first making some badly needed repairs to its existing 1,979-square-foot campus on two acres in south Bakersfield. It's hard to recruit new, younger members when your buildings are literally falling apart.
Enter Rebuilding Together Kern County, the local affiliate for Rebuilding Together, a national volunteer organization that provides upgrades to low-income homes and community centers at no cost to service recipients.
The last Saturday of April each year is National Rebuilding Day, when all of the Rebuilding Together affiliates across the country coalesce around major projects in their communities.
Rebuilding Together Kern County selected Post 97 because it's the only veteran-owned (as opposed to leased) VFW facility in the county. On Saturday, the group assembled about 25 volunteers to swarm over the place with hammers and paint brushes.
Fuchsia Ward, 69, was one of them. She helped collect debris outside and painted a women's restroom.
"I do a lot of volunteer work all over the place, but I came to this because it was special," she said. "It's a way..."
Ward paused a moment as her voice cracked.
"I'm sorry. I get emotional. It's very heart warming to me because it's an opportunity to say thank you to the veterans," she said. "Thank you for your service to the veterans, to our community, to our nation and to the world."
Victor Sanchez, 38, said he came because he and his co-workers regularly do community service projects together, and his boss is a big supporter of the military.
"This opportunity came up, and it was like, 'We're doing this,'" he said, pausing from his work ripping out a piece of porous, chipped white ceiling tile.
Sanchez said he has a cousin in the military now and another preparing to enlist after graduation, so he liked the idea of supporting local veterans.
The VFW uses the facility for meetings, parties, fundraisers and low-cost weekly dinners for fellow veterans.
It has a kitchen, a children's play room and a recreation room with pool tables, among other amenities.
The VFW bought the building in 1972. In the 1960s, it was a owned by a chicken producer.
"They raised the chickens out back, slaughtered them in the middle and sold them in front," said Rebuilding Together Kern County Chairman Greg Collins. "As you can see, the place needs work."
Rebuilding Together Kern County Treasurer Sherry Erlewine said she was thrilled with the turnout, which was unexpectedly high due to recent television coverage.
"They were like little demons. They just kept coming," she said, beaming. "We even had a lady who sews do this little window treatment for us."
Erlewine pointed to a red, white and blue valance with a star print waiting for installation.
"Isn't this great?" she said.