Local helpers fix up houses

Christmas in April repairs brighten homes, outlooks

April 29, 2001|By Jamie Manfuso | Jamie Manfuso,SUN STAFF

As more than 25 volunteers clamored around her Frizzellburg house yesterday - tacking on insulation and aluminum siding and painting window frames, Peggy Chronister couldn't help but let a few tears slip away.

"I didn't think anything like this would happen in my life," said the 50-year-old woman, whose house had fallen into disrepair.

Hers was one of 14 Carroll County homes targeted for repairs yesterday by Christmas in April volunteers. The local chapter raised $20,000 this year to buy building supplies for such repair projects, said Jim Huber, president of the volunteer organization that repairs homes for the needy.

More than 250 volunteers participated in Carroll County home projects yesterday. They tackled repairs large and small: building access ramps for people with disabilities, cleaning gutters, building staircases and doing electrical work.

Ralph Cappiello, a former Finksburg contractor, led the work crew at the Chronister home, just west of Westminster. A private contractor would have charged upward of $25,000 for the work his group did, he said.

The Chronisters moved into the house 25 years ago. Illness and other problems have prevented the family from making the repairs themselves, Peggy Chronister said.

Her 28-year-old son, Robert Lee Chronister Jr., has had surgery twice for severe scoliosis. Her husband, Robert, has a disability, and Peggy has chronic pain.

"People do get down and out, and I'm not the only one," she said.

Yesterday, as relative strangers gave her home a complete face lift, she occasionally had to take a moment to herself.

"The truth is, I've been crying on the side and not letting anybody know," she said. "It's happy tears."

Typically, a church or civic organization sponsors a house and oversees the repairs. Volunteers from Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster sponsored the Chronister house and began working there weeks ago. Most projects take a single day.

For some like the Chronisters, the home repairs signal a fresh start, the chance to get their lives back on track.

For others, like 82-year-old Edna Dobson of Eldersburg, Christmas in April means being able to continue living as she likes - on her own.

A few years ago, she spent a week at a nursing home, where she had to share her room with four people. She lasted a week before she returned.

"I like to do for myself," she said.

But living at home was a challenge, too.

Dobson's home, built by family members 50 years ago of cinder blocks and brick, had fallen into disrepair. She could no longer use the steps to the basement, where the washer and dryer are. The tiles around her bathtub had become so brittle that she didn't use the tub. And the roof leaked in several places.

A 20-person work crew built a new roof and deck, moved the washer and dryer upstairs, and repaired the bathtub, among a host of jobs.

The core group of volunteers for the project came from a newly incorporated local Habitat for Humanity chapter, led by Eldersburg resident Jack Garnish.

It was the group's first building project since the chapter was organized.

Garnish summed up his reason for getting involved: "You've got to do something that's bigger than just you."

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