Edith Cooper has lived in the same Irvington rowhouse for 40 years now, the last 23 as a widow, and you can almost hear the laugh in her voice when she says she's not half as worn out as her furnace. And she worries about not seeing the hole in the porch decking because of her glaucoma.
Not far away lives Almeta Thompson, also a widow. She shares many of the same concerns that all too many elderly people on fixed incomes face -- what to do about drafty windows, a deteriorating roof, and doors that don't work properly. And at age 70, and after four operations, she finds the cement slab that served as her home's front steps a little more difficult to navigate every year.
It's a worrisome situation for both women. But in the next few weeks their worries should go away.
Cooper will soon be getting a new furnace and a rebuilt back porch.
And Thompson will be enjoying new first-floor storm windows, a new ramp that allows easy access to her home, two new doors and a newly reinforced and recoated tin roof.
The women are just two of hundreds of needy homeowners throughout the state who will be helped just weeks after Easter on the last Saturday in April when for them it becomes "Christmas Day."
"Christmas in April" -- a phase coined by a Midland, Texas, woman to describe her feelings after volunteers renovated her home -- is a 10-year-old national, nonprofit, nonsectarian program that has taken deep root in Maryland.
To the elderly, often infirm or disabled beneficiaries of this largess, whose financial circumstances have left them unable to make necessary repairs or improvements to their homes, it is a reaffirmation of human kindness and a restoration of pride.
"It's great when you are able to do something for yourself," Thompson said. "But seeing this kind of outpouring can be even more heartwarming."
"You hear so many stories about homeowners just crying because they are so happy, so thankful, for what we have been able to do," said Greg Ledoux, president of the Baltimore City/Baltimore County Christmas in April chapter. "So many senior citizens always hear there is nothing free, and, lo and behold, here comes somebody who helps them out and doesn't charge a single penny. It gives you a great feeling."
Following the lead of Prince George's County, which launched the first program in Maryland in 1988, it has spread to a dozen other counties and Baltimore City. More than 2,400 homes have been repaired or renovated, and whole neighborhoods credit it for their revitalization.
This year, says Vincent "Cap" Mona, an Edgewater resident and former board member of Christmas in April USA, an estimated 13,000 volunteers -- representing more than a dozen Maryland counties -- will descend on nearly 400 homes in 108 communities April 25.
By the end of that same day, they will have completed repairs and improvements valued at nearly $3 million.
Nationally, on the same day, an estimated 155,000 volunteers working in more than 600 communities will renovate 5,000 homes and an uncounted number of community facilities used by senior citizens.
The concept behind Christmas in April is simple: Volunteers donate time and skills to repair homes of low-income or disabled seniors in their communities. The goal of the program is to make homes safer, warmer and drier.
It is also there to promote a homeowner's independence.
There are other such programs, but what makes Christmas in April so unique -- and so effective -- is that nearly all of the organization's visible effort is focused on one single day when thousands of men, women and even high school-age children participate in a massive outpouring of goodwill.
In Prince George's County, for example, which has the oldest and largest program in the state, this year's projected numbers include 102 targeted homes and more than 3,000 volunteers.
For the Baltimore City/Baltimore County group, Ledoux estimates 1,200 to 1,500 volunteers will repair and rehab 65 homes in the Irvington area of the city and in Victory Villa Gardens in the Middle River area.
Landscaping will also be done at a nonprofit senior citizens center.
Jeffrey Harris, Howard County chapter president, said 30 homes are targeted for work.
Farther west in Frederick County, Mike Stovall, president of that county's chapter, said they will do 20 houses this year -- up from 18 last year, 12 the year before and nine in the program's first year.
Elsewhere, similar numbers mirror the annual growth of the nonprofit program.
Each year brings more volunteers and sponsors, many seeking even more challenging projects, and always, it seems, there is need.
"Our projects range from minor fix-up and repair to major renovation," Mona said. "Light-duty projects may involve painting, carpentry and other simple repair of neglected conditions -- heavy projects may extend to a total remodeling."