A Christmas in April gives aid to ailing houses

January 27, 1995|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,Sun Staff Writer

A year ago, the floor in Dorothy L. McLean's Lothian mobile home went "up and down like a roller coaster," she said. The carpets were torn, and her roof was falling in.

Now, plush carpeting covers the level floorboards at the 64-year-old retired bus driver's house. A new roof keeps out the rain, and the kitchen is newly equipped -- thanks to A Christmas in April in Anne Arundel County, the local chapter of a national organization that renovates homes for disabled, low-income, elderly people .

The nonprofit group, which depends on contributions, will raffle off an oceanfront condominium in Ocean City worth $100,000 at a dinner and auction in Deale as part of its annual fund-raiser March 25. Raffle tickets are $100, and auction tickets are $15.

The first Christmas in April program was established in 1973 in Midland, Texas. It got its name when a man whose home was renovated in a one-day blitz the last Saturday in April said it felt like Christmas.

The county program was established in 1990 by Joanne Jackson, coordinator of the county Minority Business Enterprise Program. Since then, volunteers have done about $100,000 worth of renovations on 66 homes.

They have stripped floors, cut grass, planted flowers, painted walls and done carpentry and electrical work.

Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Owensville sponsored the work on Ms. McLean's house last April. Fifty volunteers from the church worked from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. while Ms. McLean was sent away for a day of relaxation, as are all homeowners whose homes are renovated.

"We treat them [homeowners] like kings and queens," said Ms. Jackson. Deborah Belote, a member of Our Lady of Sorrows, said her church has become a second family to Ms. McLean, whose husband died in October 1993.

The Eastport Civic Association sponsored the work on the home of Charlotte Smith, 67, in the 100 block of Eastern Avenue in Eastport. The retired teacher's 23-year-old daughter has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Christmas in April added ramps for the wheelchair and widened doorways at Mrs. Smith's house.

The volunteers lowered the kitchen cabinets to make it easier for Ms. Smith, who is 5 feet 2 inches tall, to reach them. They also put in storm windows.

"It was just beautiful work they did," Ms. Smith said. "I can't thank them enough. I am so grateful."

A "captain" is designated for each house. David Kao, 37, who served as Ms. Smith's captain, said the program does more than repair homes.

"It's changed the community for the better," he said. "It's broken down some of the polarization. People are willing to work together."

The county program's popularity has grown since 1991, when the first 12 houses were renovated. The organization expects to repair 30 houses this year. Eighty people have applied.

JTC Applicants must show proof of income and disability and must permit their homes to be inspected.

"We have to make sure the homes can be repaired in one day," Ms. Jackson said. "We've had to decline some houses because we thought they should be demolished."

In addition to the annual fund-raiser, the organization accepts donations from individuals. Businesses and civic organizations can sponsor homes in their communities for a tax-deductible $1,500. Provident Bank, the Annapolis Mall, the Columbia Medical Plan/Patuxent Medical Group and the Anne Arundel Association of Realtors have sponsored homes in the past.

Maryland ranks third, behind California and Texas, in the number of Christmas in April programs, with 12 counties participating.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening was a strong supporter of the program when he was Prince George's county executive. He has said he wants to make Maryland the first state with programs in every county.

Nationally, the program has expanded from 13 affiliates in 1988 to 148 today. The national goal is to expand the program to the seven states that don't have programs.

The program is the "perfect package" for the many people

"looking for a meaningful way to give back to their community," said Patty Johnson, president of Christmas in April USA.

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