Christmas in April means ho-ho-homeowners get help with needed repairs

April 26, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Clementine Dennison pulled out her holiday finery -- a colorful Christmas tree pin with matching earrings -- as she celebrated a springtime Christmas yesterday.

What made it Christmas was the small army of volunteers who descended on her Remington rowhouse in the morning to make repairs and paint the entire interior.

"This is the best thing that's ever happened to this neighborhood," said Mrs. Dennison, 76. "They've been all over the place. They even had the mayor with a paint brush in his hand."

Her house is one of 67 belonging to elderly or handicapped residents in the neighborhood just south of the Johns Hopkins University campus that were painted and repaired by 2,200 volunteers as a part of "Christmas in April."

Another 13 houses in the Towson area also were repaired.

"Christmas in April" is a nationwide movement that brings skilled and unskilled volunteers together for a single day to repair and refurbish houses. There will be "Christmas in April" events in 76 cities across the country this year. Several Maryland counties, including Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's, have participated.

For Jim Singleton, a branch manager for the John C. Flood plumbing contractors, the best part of the day is the feeling of a kind of Christmas spirit, a fellowship among volunteers. "You have people who are competitors in the daily marketplace but come side by side for that one day of the year," he said. "It's just a good feeling to give something back to the community where you work all year long."

Now in its third year in Baltimore, "Christmas in April" targets one or two neighborhoods and with the help of community organizations identifies homeowners who qualify to have the work done, said Joanna von Briesen, executive director of the Maryland Improvement Contractors Association and a member of the board for the volunteer effort.

Board members and skilled volunteers, mostly contractors, visited the homes beforehand to determine what needed to be done and what supplies were needed. Wholesale suppliers were approached for material donations, monetary donations covered the rest.

And then yesterday, the volunteers -- some highly skilled, others possessing nothing more than enthusiasm and a willingness to work -- spent the day repairing the houses. The work ranged from something as simple as painting to rebuilding front and back porches.

"We all learn how little we know about houses by doing this," said Bart Harvey III, a chief executive officer of the Enterprise Foundation, as he struggled to assemble a kitchen cabinet. "We gave up on the directions a long time ago. We decided that whoever wrote those directions didn't have these cabinets in mind."

Mrs. Dennison said she was thrilled to be receiving all the free repairs. Her house had been built at least 100 years ago by the Baltimore & Ohio railroad for its employees, she thought. Water leaks under her windowsills, and the plaster has cracked. "It was the only thing that I thought was wrong," she said.

But a volunteer from the law firm of Gallagher, Evelius & Jones in Baltimore decided that the upstairs washbasin also should be replaced, the water heater in her kitchen should be enclosed and the entire house should be painted.

"I feel like Princess Margaret," Mrs. Dennison. "They're going to install a stair rail, and I'm going to slide down it."

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