Christmas arrives early

Giving: Each spring, Carroll County volunteers fix and renovate homes of those in need.

April 24, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Karon Gibbons, a single mother of three, readily handles the minor upkeep at her home in Taneytown, but the major repairs have overwhelmed her.

Christmas in April, a charity that rehabilitates homes for the needy, will be on her doorstep early Saturday to tackle a long list of repairs.

The roof on Gibbons' townhouse leaked so much that the ceiling in her son's bedroom caved in, spilling soggy insulation all over the furniture. The fiberglass surrounding the bathroom tub leaked water, too, usually into the downstairs light fixture. The windows, many with cracked panes, were so rotted that the entire frame would fall out when she tried to open them. The rainspouts fell into the yard months ago.

"I can paint, but I can't put up drywall or tear out walls," said Gibbons, who bought the 20-year-old house in 1998. "I have fixed as much as I can by myself."

Jobless and separated from her husband, she cannot afford to pay a contractor. She is enrolled in cosmetology school and, until she graduates, she is living on unemployment and child support. So, she turned to Christmas in April.

"I don't like asking for help," she said. "But I definitely want to keep my house. I have to do this for my three kids."

Gibbons will be one of 11 Carroll homeowners to benefit from the charity's services this year.

"It is like I am going to have a whole new house," said Gibbons. "All these volunteers will be working here all day. They told me they will fix everything that is wrong. This is definitely what Christmas in April means."

The charity, which began in Texas 30 years ago, celebrates its national rebuilding day annually the last Saturday of April. Since a Carroll chapter was established 11 years ago, more than 100 area homes have been renovated and repaired.

Carroll's Department of Social Services refers many of its neediest clients to Christmas in April. The charity receives donations from companies such as Home Depot and service organizations such as Rotary clubs. It draws volunteers from service agencies and church groups.

About 100 volunteers have signed up for home improvement chores throughout the county Saturday. A harsh winter that damaged roofs, gutters and siding has left no shortage of projects for them.

At a home for developmentally disabled adults in Westminster, volunteers will expand the deck, add landscaping and paint the fence. At Shepherd's Staff, an outreach ministry to the needy, crews will do yard work, install outside lights, clear out the basement and attic, and build much-needed shelves.

"It's all things we desperately need done, but much of it is heavy work we can't get to," said Kathy Brown, Shepherd's Staff director. "They have already come several times and measured so they can do as much as possible Saturday."

Some projects will not be as time-consuming. Several elderly residents have asked to have smoke detectors installed and one disabled homeowner will receive an intercom system. Many homes will have storm doors replaced. A few requests involve expanding doorways to accommodate wheelchairs.

For 4-year-old Eric Gibbons, the effort means he will get his room back. He has been bunking with his two elder sisters for the past few weeks and "that's no fun," he said.

Christmas in April has paid for a new roof on the Gibbons' home, the most pressing of the repair projects.

"She is a single mom, putting herself through school and she needed a roof on her house," said Dierdre Crowl, vice president of the Carroll County chapter of the charity. "But we paid a roofing contractor. I couldn't see having volunteers on the roof of a two-story house."

Gibbons can expect about a dozen volunteers and crew chief Larry Blizzard, who has volunteered with Christmas in April for about six years.

He has visited the home and made a to-do list that includes repairs to the storage shed in the back yard. Blizzard renovates homes for a living and promises "fatigue and a great feeling" at the end of the day.

"Months from now," he said, "I will drive by the house with my family and I'll be proud of what we did for this family."

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