Christmas in April fills homeowners with cheer

Repairs: Carroll County's Christmas in April organization runs a volunteer effort to rehab houses for the needy.

April 23, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The tidy, cozy rooms filled with family keepsakes show the pride Simeon and Jewell Brown take in the Union Bridge home where they have lived for 35 years. She points to the polished cabinets he helped install in the kitchen where she cooks all their meals. He says he has been "keeping up with things, until lately."

"But we can't anymore," she said, finishing the thought for her husband of 67 years.

The couple, both in their 90s, readily admit that they can no longer maintain the bungalow in optimum condition. The paint is peeling. They have covered several windows with plastic to ward off the weather. A railing would make the porch safer, and the 70-year-old home could use new screens and a storm door.

"We can't keep up with home repairs," said Jewell Brown. "The windows don't fit like they should, and air and water get in. The outside needs paint. We need a new door. Everything is too expensive for us to afford, but we really enjoy our home."

The 12th annual Christmas in April Rebuilding Day in Carroll tomorrow will help the Browns and 10 other homeowners and one nonprofit agency. The Carroll County charity - affiliated with Rebuilding Together, a national organization dedicated to home rehabilitation for low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners - has 150 volunteers set to arrive on doorsteps throughout the county with gallons of paint, hammers and even windows, flooring and doors.

Similar scenes with Christmas in April volunteers will play out in counties throughout the metropolitan area and in Baltimore City. Charity chapters in Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have also scheduled repair projects for their neediest homeowners.

"There is always this one constant with all the chapters," said Dierdre Crowl, president of the Carroll organization. "All of us rebuild in our communities on the last Saturday of April."

In Carroll, volunteers will replace roofs and floorboards and in one case, a bathroom. They will install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and spruce up interior and exterior walls with fresh coats of paint. Neighbors, churches and the county Bureau of Aging were among those recommending the homeowners. Before choosing the neediest homes, Christmas in April members also review owners' applications for assistance, paying particular attention to income status, Crowl said.

"We have one single mother recommended by her children's school guidance counselor," she said. "We will be replacing her front porch and removing trees damaged by Isabel."

At another home, volunteers plan to rebuild a first floor and replace bathroom pipes. They will climb onto the roof of a Taneytown home and hammer plywood and tiles over holes covered with a flimsy tarp.

At New Life for Girls, a residential facility for indigent women, volunteers will renovate the offices, repair a ceiling, paint several rooms and landscape the grounds. This is the third year the volunteers have worked at the agency, which is located in a century-old farmhouse near Westminster.

"These are all things we can't afford but really need," said Gilbert Baez, assistant director at New Life for Girls. "They are a real blessing to us. These volunteers see our need and have a heart to help us."

Dale Baker, house captain in charge of the Browns' home, has volunteered for about 10 years. During a visit with the Browns, he tallied up the tasks for his crew of about 30 from St. George's Episcopal Church in Hampstead.

"We will replace 14 windows, install screens, add a handrail to the porch, install weather stripping and paint about three-quarters of the exterior of the house," he said. "It is quite a task, but we will get it all done and in one day. This is a good organization, and this day is a way to give back to the community."

Simeon Brown, who worked as a farm and construction laborer and later as a janitor at the nearby Lehigh Portland Cement Plant, said, "I don't see how these people will get all this work done, but they say they will."

To-do lists, like Baker's, are all in a day's work for Christmas in April, which has rehabbed more than 150 Carroll homes with more than 30,000 hours of volunteer time since 1993, Crowl said. She plans "to be everywhere documenting and making sure everything is going smoothly."

"To see up close why we are putting time and energy into this is wonderful," Crowl said.

For people like the Browns, the work means they can live safely and comfortably in their surroundings, a house atop a small hill overlooking the town they have called home all their lives.

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