Elderly woman's dilapidated home gets free face lift

November 01, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Katie Warfield can barely keep the grin off her face. The 70-year-old can hardly recognize her little cinder-block home -- long suffering a leaky roof, faulty plumbing, winter drafts and a host of other ills.

In an effort resembling a barn-raising, some 50 volunteers converged on the Perryman home last week and gave it a face lift -- indoors and out -- that surpassed Mrs. Warfield's wildest dreams.

"It's so beautiful," she said. "I didn't know it could turn out to be so beautiful, with what they had to work with."

The home renovation was organized by Landmark Homes, whose "Building Friendships" program brings local building suppliers and contractors together once a year to voluntarily repair and winterize the home of a low-income family.

More than two dozen businesses joined Landmark, offering labor, materials and money for repairs to Mrs. Warfield's home on Mitchell Lane. Most of the work was completed in less than two days.

Workers replaced the roof, installed vinyl siding, painted the exterior and installed gutters and downspouts, the first the house had ever had. They also replaced the front and back steps and an attached storage shed -- which had been near collapse -- and shored up the back of the house with a new wall and insulation.

That was just on the outside.

Indoors, they replaced the water heater, repaired faulty pipes and plumbing fixtures, installed tile floors and carpeting, replaced the front and back doors and broken windows, repaired a crumbling ceiling and installed a new heating system.

"I'm so excited about the furnace," said Mrs. Warfield. "That's something I've always wanted. When they said they could put a furnace in, it was like a load was lifted off me," she said.

Landmark's administrative director, Wendy Vocke, estimated the value of the repairs at nearly $25,000, including labor and materials. She attributed a sizable chunk of that to the decision to replace an antiquated kerosene stove and space heaters with new gas furnace.

The central heat will be a first for Mrs. Warfield, who moved into thehouse with her husband more than 50 years ago, when it was half the size it is today.

"I remember when World War II broke out, my husband and I were sitting right here eating dinner," she says, noting that she spent most of the life she can remember in the house. Her husband was drafted during the war, served in Germany and came home to a civilian job at Aberdeen Proving Ground. When FTC he died in 1959, he left her with three children to raise alone in the house.

She put one child through college and another through trade school while working various jobs, including 20 years at Bata shoe factory.

Today she lives on Social Security with her youngest son, Alonso, 43. Mr. Warfield, forced to quit his job this year when lifelong kidney problems worsened, undergoes dialysis three days a week.

"I'm so glad for my mother," he said, when the repairs were nearly finished. "She did so much for us when we were little, and she still does so much for people in the neighborhood. She really deserved this."

The Warfields' original house was expanded about 30 years ago when Mrs. Warfield's brother, a carpenter, doubled its size, adding a bath, an attic and a couple of bedrooms. Wood paneling was added to some of the walls, but otherwise the house remained unchanged for years and fell into disrepair.

Fearing a bad winter ahead, Mrs. Warfield recently contacted the Harford County Weatherization Agency, which offers the poor assistance in conserving energy. "But they said my house was in too bad condition to weatherize," she said.

Tom Kenny, program coordinator for the agency, said an energy audit crew sent out to the house about two months ago found that it would have cost over $1,600 to winterize. "And even then it would have been a waste," he said, "because the leaky roof would have ruined the insulation after the first rain. It just wasn't cost-effective."

As an alternative, Mr. Kenny said, he tried to get Mrs. Warfield help from the state-run Farmers Home Loan program. But the house didn't qualify for a rehabilitation loan because it was outside designated "rural" boundaries.

Then he remembered Landmark Homes' community service program and recommended Mrs. Warfield as a candidate. The local builder has organized five home renovations -- four of them in Harford County, where the 6-year-old company got its start.

"I can't believe how kind these people have been," said Mrs. Warfield, as she watched the flurry of activity around her. "I don't know how they picked my name, but I'm certainly glad they did."

The Perryman home may be the most extensive "Building Friendships" project yet, said Ms. Vocke, noting that project ideas seemed to multiply and that every corner of the home was affected.

One local supplier donated a 10-by-12 storage shed for the back yard after workers had to remove the deteriorating lean-to attached to the back of the house. The roofer, in turn, offered to cover the shed with shingles to match the house roof. Volunteers also decided to put shutters on the front of the house and install carriage lights on either side of the front door, just to complete the picture, says Vocke.

"I love it. Everything looks beautiful," said Mrs. Warfield after her first night in her new home. She couldn't decide what was more exciting -- the plush carpet under her feet in the morning or the hot and cold water on demand from faucets that had been broken for a long time.

5) "I'm just enjoying it all," she said.

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