Elizella Hall has lived in the brick home on Sugar Hill Road -- where Dembytown Road ends in a dirt lane -- for 40 years.
She reared two children and four foster children there. But for the last three years, she has been living in a fire-ravaged home without heat or hot water, with windows broken by firefighters' axes. A kerosene heater keeps the chill out of the house; a hot plate warms the food.
Thanks to help from a conscientious builder and 60 volunteers, the 70-year-old Dembytown resident's house got a thorough renovation last week.
Mrs. Hall owned the home, but she had no fire insurance when a grandchild playing with a lighter started a blaze in the bedroom.
Although walls were charred and the roof damaged, Mrs. Hall seems surprised by questions about coping without central heat and hot water.
"I was born in the South without it, and I never got away from it," she says with a laugh and a shrug.
But, she adds with relief, as soon as the furnace is turned on, the kerosene heater is "out of here."
The heat went on Wednesday night, thanks to Landmark Homes' "Building Friendships" program, which brings local building suppliers and contractors together once a year in a barn-raising-type blitz of needed repairs and winterization to the homes of low-income senior citizens.
In addition to the heating system, a hot water tank was installed and new roof and gutters and downspouts were put on the
Also, fire-damaged walls, broken windows and charred flooring were replaced and the interior of the house was painted.
Since the program started in 1987, volunteers have renovated 10 homes -- Mrs. Hall's will be the fifth in Harford County in cooperation with the state Department of Aging and the Office of Weatherization Assistance, which referred Mrs. Hall's predicament to county authorities.
Mrs. Hall's plight first came to the attention of Thomas Kenny, Harford County coordinator of the weatherization program, when received a call from William Innskeep, a volunteer at the First Presbyterian Church in Bel Air.
Mr. Innskeep runs a program that uses teen-agers to do volunteer rehabilitation work on homes. But Mrs. Hall's home was in such poor condition that it was beyond the scope of what the teen-agers could handle.
The Rev. Nazireth Lyons, assistant pastor of New Faith Baptist Church in Joppa, heard of Mrs. Hall's problems through a parishioner. Ms. Lyons met with Mrs. Hall, and the first step, she said, was to pray. "Lots of prayers," interjects Mrs. Hall. She also helped with paperwork and made sure that Mrs. Hall met with all the right agencies and officials, including Mr. Kenny.
Mr. Kenny said that repairs -- $25,000 worth of materials and labor -- were beyond the scope of his budget, which deals primarily with more modest rehabilitation projects.
In late September, Mr. Kenny got a call from Gary Houston, chairman of the Towson-based Landmark Homes. Mr. Houston was looking for another house to rehabilitate.
He especially wanted to help out in Harford where his business started in 1987. Mr. Houston said that this is a "small difference," but he always wanted to make such a difference and help someone, and teach his children to do the same.
The father of four, ranging in ages from 3 to 12, watches dozens of contractors' pickups pull into the yard as volunteers spread out across the roof and throughout the house. "My kids are proud of me," he said. "And isn't that what it's all about?"