Arlene Lozada, front, and Jyoti Kaur, juniors from a Towson… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
Maia Jones could have been sleeping in on this frosty weekend morning. Instead, the 20-year-old Towson University junior was up and gone early to rake leaves for Beverly Schiff, a total stranger in Northwest Baltimore.
She looked a little awkward wielding the rake: "I don't know what I'm doing at all," she confessed.
But Jones and her Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority sisters pitched in gamely Sunday with nearly 300 other volunteers to help 95 low-income elderly residents of Northwest Baltimore prepare for winter.
They raked, trimmed hedges, caulked, sealed windows in plastic sheeting, installed carbon monoxide detectors and changed smoke detector batteries. The annual Weatherization Day is sponsored by CHAI, a housing assistance project affiliated with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
Schiff, 75, couldn't be happier or more grateful for this and other help CHAI has provided over the years. She has been living in her house on Fieldcrest Road since she was 16. Her husband, Ben, died nine years ago, and she has some difficulty navigating the stairs. But she has no other family, and she's doing her best to stay in her home.
"I can depend on them for anything that goes wrong in the house," Schiff said. When her mother's old refrigerator began leaking, she said, "they got me a new refrigerator. When it was raining terribly and water would come inside, they sent men to fix it up. They've just been wonderful to me."
On Sunday, while Jones and Stephanie Perry, 20, of Clinton, were out front raking, sorority sisters Arlene Lozada, 21, and Jyoti Kaur, 20, were inside attaching plastic sheeting to Schiff's front windows, and installing a carbon monoxide detector in her upstairs hallway.
"Our organization prides itself on community service," Lozada said while she and Kaur figured out how to screw the detector to the wall. "It's a good feeling knowing I'm helping out the community."
Ken Gelula, CHAI's executive director, said the organization has worked full time in Northwest Baltimore and Baltimore County since 1983 to provide housing support to 200 low-income elderly residents with whom it keeps in touch.
In addition to developing and managing affordable housing, he said, the group uses public and private funding to offer homeowners loans and assistance in the form of maintenance, weatherization and modification projects, such as grab bars and ramps.
CHAI stands for Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. The word also means "life" in Hebrew. But while CHAI has Jewish roots, it recruits volunteers and serves clients of all beliefs.
"Obviously, it's a value of all religions, including Judaism, to honor our fathers and mothers; it's one of the 10 Commandments," Gelula said. There's also a fundamental concept in Judaism that calls for "acts of love and kindness," in addition to prayer and study of the scripture. "We bring our own take to that."
So, while the morning frost was still melting Sunday, volunteers of all descriptions began streaming into the Yeshivat Rambam day school on Park Heights Avenue. They got their assignments, picked up the tub of tools and materials prescribed for each address, and paused for a few minutes of instructions. Then, it was off into the neighborhood.
For David and Amy Stampfer of Pikesville and their children the destination was Denise Gilbert's brick bungalow on Gist Avenue.
Gilbert, who said she is "over 21," is a native of Morocco, and a retired French translator and real estate broker. She said her own income and physical problems make it difficult for her to keep after her home's maintenance without CHAI's assistance.
"They are very, very nice; I look forward to their coming," Gilbert said as volunteers Pam Fradkin, 43, and her daughter Emily, 14, spread plastic across her bedroom window. "Mostly they come with their children, and it's very nice to see how the parents work with their kids to make people happy."
"And for me it's a big load off my shoulders," she said. "I don't have to deal with strangers coming to the house. I'm very, very grateful."
Outside, the Stampfers and their children Ali, 14, and Jessica, 11, were trimming Gilbert's hedge, clearing out the garden beds and raking leaves into a huge pile for bagging, even as the giant oaks overhead continued to drop more.
"It feels good to help … and we're able to do it," Amy Stampfer said. "And we can do it as a family. … I want my kids to learn about giving back and volunteering. It's a great opportunity."
Ali, a ninth-grader at Beth Tfiloh School, conceded it was difficult to wake up early on a Sunday, but worth it. "It makes me feel good to get up and help people," she said.
Theirs was only the first of two shifts of CHAI volunteers Sunday. Their ranks continue to grow each year, said Alice Kolman, who helped coordinate Sunday's Weatherization Day.
"We try to stay in there and help people," she said. "Certainly the needs are growing."
For more: http://www.chaibaltimore.org
An earlier version misidentified the sorority involved. The Sun regrets the error.
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