For widow, Christmas to arrive Saturday Volunteers from group will repair her home

April 22, 1996|By Diane E. Otts | Diane E. Otts,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Lucille Ballard is battling Crohn's disease and lost her job as a social worker last year. To make matters worse, the harsh winter caused water pipes in her Elkridge home to burst, ruining the bathroom.

Then a small concrete bridge that spans a water-logged section of her driveway collapsed, preventing fuel trucks from delivering oil to her home. She hasn't been able to run her furnace in more than a year.

Still, the 61-year-old widow says, "I'm the luckiest person in the world," because she's looking forward to Christmas -- Chrismas in April.

Saturday, about 50 volunteers from a group called Christmas in April will pick up hammers and paintbrushes to repair Ms. Ballard's home. Across Howard County, more than 1,000 other volunteers will be doing the same at 29 homes owned by elderly or disabled people of limited means.

Because of the Christmas in April national nonprofit organization, the last Saturday of April was declared National Rebuilding Day. Nationwide, an estimated 135,000 volunteers in 47 states will repair more than 4,300 homes.

Groups sponsor house

"Volunteers come from religious groups, corporations, civic groups and the private sector," said Jeff Harris of Columbia Bank, who is vice president of the Howard County chapter of Christmas in April. "Groups sponsor a house. To sponsor a house, we ask for a $2,000 cash contribution and that the group provide volunteers for the day."

The money is collected and then divided according to the needs of all the houses. The program also receives donations of materials. Home Depot, for example, is a sponsor of Christmas in April, and in Howard County gives a $3,000 credit toward the purchase of materials.

Ms. Ballard's home is being co-sponsored by Columbia Bank, Potts Construction Co. and ReMax, who were advised of her plight when she applied for assistance with her fuel bill.

When she was contacted by the group, she requested only to have her bathroom repaired. "I didn't want to feel like I was taking advantage," she explained.

Other work needed

But Jim Potts, owner of Potts Construction in Highland, inspected her home and found numerous other problems that he felt should be addressed. "She asked for just a few things," he said, "but we've got enough volunteers to give her even more."

They'll not only fix her bathroom, but pour concrete for a new bridge, paint her two bedrooms, fix the water-damaged ceiling in her laundry room, repair the roof and porch, add a railing to her front steps and till her garden.

"It was just one of the most pleasant surprises," Ms. Ballard said. "I couldn't even sleep all night."

It is not unusual for Christmas in April to offer more than homeowners dare seek. Charles Proffen, a 71-year-old retired salesman of medical supplies, had his home repaired three years ago by a volunteer group of Howard County employees.

"I asked them to help me with a few projects I wasn't able to handle myself," said Mr. Proffen, who lives in Ellicott City. But when the team leader came to his home to discuss the projects, "They found about a dozen other things I didn't even think of."

By the end of Mr. Proffen's Christmas in April, he had a freshly painted living room and bedroom, repaired plumbing and a new toilet. Projects included a new insulated sliding glass door from the dining room to a new deck, a new garbage disposal and "lots of landscaping," including the planting of 18 pine tree seedlings.

Safety inspection

The Bethany Fire Station performed a safety inspection, provided fresh batteries for his smoke detector, installed an additional smoke detector and replaced the house numbers on his light post and mailbox.

Volunteers usually come with their meals for the day, but Mr. Proffen showed his gratitude by grilling hamburgers and hot dogs for the crew.

"It was great fun," he said. "I took picture after picture of people working and have them in my scrapbook as a memory."

He enjoyed the day so much that he became a Christmas in April volunteer. "I can't paint, and I'm not a good carpenter, but I can sure take a lot of good pictures," he said.

Using film and processing donated by Folkemer Photo and Computer Center in Ellicott City, Mr. Proffen and other photographers take candid shots of workers and a group picture of each crew. The group pictures are mounted on a plaque and presented to the volunteer groups at a thank-you breakfast.

Most of the Christmas in April volunteers have no home repair experience. Because all the work is done in one day, plenty of chores such as moving supplies and cleaning keep everyone busy. Skilled volunteers lead the projects, and electrical, plumbing and roofing work is only done by professionals.

"The main goal of the program is to leave the house safe, warm and dry," said Mr. Harris, the chapter vice president.

By the end of this year, its fifth in Howard County, Christmas in April will have performed more than $1 million of renovations to 173 homes.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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